Contact geometry and mechanics predict friction forces during tactile surface exploration

  • Janko Marco
  • Wiertlewski Michael
  • Visell Yon


When we touch an object, complex frictional forces are produced, aiding us in perceiving surface features that help to identify the object at hand, and also facilitating grasping and manipulation. However, even during controlled tactile exploration, sliding friction forces fluctuate greatly, and it is unclear how they relate to the surface topography or mechanics of contact with the finger. We investigated the sliding contact between the finger and different relief surfaces, using high-speed video and force measurements. Informed by these experiments, we developed a friction force model that accounts for surface shape and contact mechanical effects, and is able to predict sliding friction forces for different surfaces and exploration speeds. We also observed that local regions of disconnection between the finger and surface develop near high relief features, due to the stiffness of the finger tissues. Every tested surface had regions that were never contacted by the finger; we refer to these as " tactile blind spots ". The results elucidate friction force production during tactile exploration, may aid efforts to connect sensory and motor function of the hand to properties of touched objects, and provide crucial knowledge to inform the rendering of realistic experiences of touch contact in virtual reality.