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VirtuGrasp: Real-time visual and haptic feedback of grasping movements in virtual reality

The aims of this project are to understand how the brain integrates vision and touch to control hand movements, and to explore haptic control of hand movements using virtual reality technology. The methods we use are building on first (Nadine Aburumman) and second supervisor's (Marco Davare) research studying avatars, animation and human movements in virtual reality (Computer Science), and Davare’s work on the neuroscience of human hand function and neurorehabilitation (Clinical Sciences). The project we propose is multidisciplinary, combining research into 3D graphics, physics, AI, virtual reality techniques from computer science with new advances in brain mechanisms underlying perception and action, and multisensory integration from cognitive neuroscience.

To achieve the aims of this project, we will explore how the brain processes sensory signals for controlling movements online and generate a perception of the environment, while multisensory information will be experimentally manipulated in a virtual reality setup. We aim to simulate the forces produced during hand-object interaction in order to render a highly realistic feedback of grasping movements.

The successful applicants will join the internationally recognised researchers in the Department of Computer Science. This project is multidisciplinary: grasping and hand movements are actively being studied across robotics, AI, human computer interaction, cognitive neuroscience and physiotherapy. This research is focused on modelling grasping movements and feedback in immersive environments and producing a sense of ownership and agency over a virtual hand. Hand movements and object interactions are crucial features for training/simulation applications (e.g. flight, driving, medical simulators, robotics), where the ability to interact with simulated environments is paramount to an immersive experience.

Applicants will have or be expected to receive a first or upper-second class honours degree in an Engineering, Computer Science, Design, Mathematics, Physics or a similar discipline. A Postgraduate Masters degree is not required but may be an advantage. We encourage applicants with a strong background in programming C/C++/C# (preferably using UE4 or Unity) to apply. In addition, they should be highly motivated, able to work in a team, collaborate with others and have good communication skills.

References

  • Dangxiao WANG, Yuan GUO, Shiyi LIU, Yuru ZHANG, Weiliang XU, Jing XIAO, "Haptic Display for Virtual Reality: Progress and Challenges", Virtual Reality & Intelligent Hardware, Volume 1, Issue 2, 2019.
  • Y. Ban and Y. Ujitoko, "Enhancing the Pseudo-Haptic effect on the touch panel using the virtual string," 2018 IEEE Haptics Symposium (HAPTICS), San Francisco, CA, 2018.
  • Kim M, Jeon C, Kim J. "A Study on Immersion and Presence of a Portable Hand Haptic System for Immersive Virtual Reality", Sensors, Basel, 2017.

How to apply

If you are interested in applying for the above PhD topic please follow the steps below:

  1. Contact the supervisor by email or phone to discuss your interest and find out if you woold be suitable. Supervisor details can be found on this topic page. The supervisor will guide you in developing the topic-specific research proposal, which will form part of your application.
  2. Click on the 'Apply here' button on this page and you will be taken to the relevant PhD course page, where you can apply using an online application.
  3. Complete the online application indicating your selected supervisor and include the research proposal for the topic you have selected.

Good luck!

This is a self funded topic

Brunel offers a number of funding options to research students that help cover the cost of their tuition fees, contribute to living expenses or both. See more information here: https://www.brunel.ac.uk/research/Research-degrees/Research-degree-funding. The UK Government is also offering Doctoral Student Loans for eligible students, and there is some funding available through the Research Councils. Many of our international students benefit from funding provided by their governments or employers. Brunel alumni enjoy tuition fee discounts of 15%.

Meet the Supervisor(s)


Nadine Aburumman - Nadine is a lecturer at the Computer Science Department, and a member of the Intelligent Data Analysis (IDA), the Interactive Multimedia System (IMS) and Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) research groups. She is doing research in computer graphics, physics-based animation, real-time physics, skinning, secondary motions, cloth simulation and fluid simulation. She has focused her career both on computer science and digital arts. The ultimate goal of her research is to improve the quality of 3D animated movies, video games and VR/AR/XR through physically based simulations of virtual characters, cloth, soft bodies, fluids and rigid bodies. Towards this goal, she intend to advance computer games and computer animation on various levels, mainly through efficient physics-based algorithms, skeletal based deformation, and machine learning.

Marco Davare - I obtained a PhD in Neurosciences at Université catholique de Louvain (Belgium) in 2008. I then joined the UCL Queen Square Institute of Neurology at University College London as a Wellcome Trust post-doctoral fellow. In 2012, I was awarded a BBSRC David Phillips fellowship to build my own lab and develop my research projects as principal investigator within the Institute of Neurology at UCL. I then moved to KU Leuven (Belgium) as Associate Professor, funded by an FWO Odysseus programme. In 2019, I returned to the UK and joined Brunel University London. My current research interests lie at the interface between movement and cognitive neuroscience. I study multisensory integration mechanisms underlying the control of skilled hand movements in humans as a window to find out how the brain controls our actions and generates perceptual representations of our environment. In our daily life, we use our hands to grasp and manipulate hundreds of objects and tools with an apparently effortless grace, which contrasts with the complexity of the hand neurophysiology. This paradox inspired my current interest in how the brain controls hand movements and led me to begin a PhD in the Laboratory of Neurophysiology, School of Medicine, Université catholique de Louvain, in 2002. The main focus of my PhD consisted in using transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) to investigate the role of brain areas involved in reaching and grasping movements. After completing my PhD in 2008, I joined the Sobell Department of Motor Neuroscience and Movement Disorders (University College London) as a Wellcome Trust post-doctoral fellow in Prof. Roger Lemon’s lab. There, the exposure to single unit studies of premotor-motor interactions during hand grip in non-human primates led me to pioneer new TMS methods to investigate cortico-cortical connectivity during hand actions. Using this new TMS technique, I was able to demonstrate for the first time causal interactions between three key brain areas part of the cortical grasping circuit. That work led me to receive the Magstim Young Investigator Award. Recently, I developed a novel virtual reality environment in which vision and haptics (active touch through force-feedback robots) are controlled independently. The aim of this project is to provide a better understanding of the brain mechanisms underlying multisensory integration for skilled actions. This line of research was funded by a BBSRC David Phillips fellowship at UCL, a responsive-mode BBSRC project grant at UCL and an Odysseus project grant at KU Leuven, for a total of £2.5M as principal investigator (GtR UKRI).