This story is from the category Augmenting Organics
Date posted: 06/03/2008
A new, rudimentary haptic system, developed by Haptics researcher Cagatay Basdogan of Ko? University, Istanbul, Turkey, allows climate researchers to physically feel the shifting weather patterns on their maps.
The effect is achieved via a force-feedback joystick rather than a full body sensation, but all the same, the effect is startling.
A trial of the system has shown that it can help people understand how the climate works in a much more intuitive way than purely visual maps.
The system converts climate data into forces that a person can feel using a haptic device in the form of a robotic arm with a joystick on the end.
Climate data is normally displayed as layers of symbols on 2D or 3D maps of terrain, with force arrows of differing thickness representing wind direction and strength. Colour coding being used to indicate pressure levels. On top of that, a temperature map is overlaid, then a humidity map, and cloud cover map on top of that. Climatologists must work with all these map levels to understand what is going on. The complexity often makes it very hard to get a true grasp.
"Visualising climate data is not easy," Basdogan says. "If you rely only on visualisations, users can get overwhelmed." So Basdogan, Sen, and colleagues developed a haptic system dubbed CEVIZ, for Climate Exploration and Visualisation.
The system lets people physically experience climate variables by exerting force on their hand using a haptic controller made by SensAble Technologies. "It adds another dimensionality to what's on the screen," Basdogan says.
The haptic controller can guide a person's hand along contours representing areas of high air pressure, or push and pull on their hand to represent shifting winds as the user moves their cursor over the map. Vortices of rising, swirling air are experienced as if the user's hand is attached to a spring pulling it upwards.
Tests involving 22 people compared CEVIZ to a more conventional, purely visual climate display system. Both systems displayed a 3D simulation of the eastern Mediterranean basin and its climate.
Results showed that people understood the presented data much better after using CEVIZ. They were able, for example, to pinpoint much more accurately the places where humid air would interact with wind and cooler temperatures to form clouds.
Climate modeler Gary Strand at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado, US, agrees that the usual ways of representing climate can get complicated quickly.
"When you start overlaying more than two variables, it gets very complicated, and it's hard to see any correlations [in the data]," he says.
CEVIZ is "very intriguing," Strand says, "I'd like to try it out." As well as helping researchers explore their data, it could also be to help people explore weather reports, he adds.
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