Ph.D. Defense Presentation by Adam S. Coutee
Monday, May 17, 2004

(Dr. Bert Bras, Chair)

"Virtual Assembly Analysis: An Exploration into Virtual Object Interactions and Haptic Feedback"


In recent years, researchers have developed virtual environments, which allow more realistic human-computer interactions and have become increasingly popular for engineering applications such as computer-aided design and process evaluation. For instance, the demand for product service, remanufacture, and recycling has forced companies to consider ease of assembly and disassembly during the design phase of their products. Evaluating these processes in a virtual environment during the early stages of design not only increases the impact of design modifications on the final product, but also eliminates the time, cost, and material associated with the construction of physical prototypes. Although numerous virtual environments for assembly analysis exist or are under development, many provide only visual feedback. A real-time haptic simulation test bed for the analysis of assembly and disassembly operations has been developed, providing the designer with force and tactile feedback in addition to traditional visual feedback.

The development such a simulation requires the modeling of collisions between virtual objects, which is a computationally expensive process. Also, the demands of a real-time simulation incorporating haptic feedback introduce additional complications for reliable collision detection. Therefore, the first objective of this work was to discover ways in which current collision detection libraries can be improved or supplemented to create more robust interaction between virtual objects. Using the simulation as a test bed, studies were then conducted to determine the potential usefulness of haptic feedback for analysis of assembly and disassembly operations. The following significant contributions were accomplished: (1) a simulation combining the strengths of an impulse-based simulation with a supplemental constraint maintenance scheme for modeling object interactions, (2) a toolkit of supplemental techniques to support object interactions in situations where collision detection algorithms commonly fail, (3) a haptic assembly and disassembly simulation useful for experimentation, and (4) results from a series of five experimental user studies with the focus of determining the effectiveness of haptic feedback in such a simulation. Additional contributions include knowledge of the usability and functionality of current collision detection libraries, the limitations of haptic feedback devices, and feedback from experimental subjects regarding their comfort and overall satisfaction with the simulation.