Katherine Kuchenbecker works on incorporating the sense of touch directly into virtual objects. Imagine being able to feel textures on your digital screens.

Why you should listen

Could technology be more touchy feely? Mechanical engineer Katherine Kuchenbecker answers this question with a resounding ‘yes.’ Kuchenbecker researches the design, control and performance of robotic systems that enable a user to touch virtual objects and distant environments as though they were real and within reach. These interfaces combine electromechanical sensors, actuators and computer control, allowing for technology that can fool the human sense of touch, otherwise known as ‘haptics.’

Imagine a tablet computer that lets you feel fabrics and textures, robotic surgical tools that let doctors use their incredibly well-honed sense of touch, video games that allow you to feel hits and computer programs that teach you the movements of a sport. By researching these areas -- as well as applications in stroke rehabilitation and assistance for the blind -- Kuchenbecker seeks to improve our understanding of touch and uncover new opportunities to use it in interactions between humans, computers and machines.

An assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania, Kuchenbecker has been named to the Popular Science Brilliant 10. She is also an avid photographer, and played volleyball at Stanford for two seasons.

What others say

“At her laboratory at the University of Pennsylvania, Kuchenbecker is working to incorporate the sense of touch, known as haptics, into human-computer interfaces. Kuchenbecker's work stands to transform the way surgeons operate, play computer games, drive a car -- and even the way we shop online.” — PopTech.org

Katherine Kuchenbecker’s TED talk