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Karon MacLean – How to Haptic: Supporting Design of Haptic Interactions

Prof. Karon MacLean, University of British Columbia

Title:  How to Haptic: Supporting Design of Haptic Interactions
Date: March 7th, 2019
Time: 11:00am – 12:30pm
Place: Senate Chambers, Ross N940
Focus Session: LAS 3033, 12:30pm – 2:30pm


Today’s advances in tactile sensing and wearable, IOT and context-aware computing are spurring new ideas about how to configure touch-centered interactions in terms of roles and utility, which in turn expose new technical and social design questions.  But while haptic actuation, sensing and control are improving, incorporating them into a real-world design process is extremely difficult and poses a major obstacle to adoption into everyday technology.

In this talk I’ll focus on how my group has approached research into viable roles and design languages for physical communication by digging into a few divergent examples. Recently, these include
– affective physical human robot interaction: e.g. raising an interactive agent’s physically expressed ‘emotional intelligence’ by exploiting low-cost, stretchy touch sensing and dynamic pattern recognition, and easily-evolved and programmed mechanical platforms, where motion input and evaluation of its expressivity are tricky;
– case study observations of novice and expert haptic designers (e.g., while building a haptic learning environment) to establish their challenges and needs.

The broader question is how to support design. I’ll describe how we’ve built what we’ve learned about users’ cognitive and expressive frameworks from this and other research into a multitude of guidelines, tools and DIY systems, all available online, and our plans to push this into a broader openhaptics effort.


Karon MacLean is a Professor in Computer Science at the University of British Columbia, and Director of the Sensory Perception & Interaction Research Group (SPIN). Prior to coming to UBC, she earned her B.Sc., Biology and Mech Eng (Stanford), as well as her M.Sc. and Ph.D., Mech Eng (MIT). She spent time as a professional robotics engineer at the Center for Engineering Design at the University of Utah and a haptics / interaction researcher with Interval Research at Palo Alto.  She become Assistant Professor at UBC in 2000 and has been a Professor since 2010. Since her start at UBC in 2000, MacLean’s research specializes in haptic (touch) interaction: cognitive, sensory and affective design for people interacting with the computation we touch, emote and move with and learn from, from robots to touch screens and the situated environment or mobile activity sensors. Her recent focus has been on understanding affective touch – how we use it, how to sense, recognize and synthesize it using robots, and to access the therapeutic benefits of touch evident in animal interactions.

MacLean leads UBC’s Designing for People interdisciplinary research cluster and CREATE graduate training program (20 researchers spanning 8 departments and 4 faculties –, and is Special Advisor, Innovation and Knowledge Mobilization to UBC’s Faculty of Science.

She has acted as bridge between the HCI, robotics and haptics communities throughout her career. Her accomplishments include NSERC Accelerator (2013); Charles A. McDowell Award (2008); Izaak Walton Killam Memorial Faculty Research Fellowship (2007); Peter Wall Early Career Scholar (2001). Chair, 2010-2012 IEEE Haptics Symposium; founding Associate Editor of the IEEE Transactions on Haptics; member of numerous haptics, HCI and HRI editorial and advisory boards. She won numerous awards for her research including the Best Paper Award (CHI 2011); Human Robot Interaction Conference Best Paper Award; IEEE Haptics Symposium Best Paper Award; Best Paper Award (CHI 2006). She was also awarded the NSERC Collaborative Research and Development Grant in 2011.

For more about her current research, visit the SPIN lab – the Sensory Perception and Interaction Research Group.