Carnegie Mellon University
Roberta Klatzky

Redefining the Human Touch

By pursuing the science of perception, Professor Roberta Klatzky is changing the way people see the world. 

“What if touch was integrated into technology just as much as sight and sound?” 

It was this provocative question, posed by a friend who studies touch, that catapulted Roberta Klatzky into the field of “surface haptic” technology. Her work on what kinds of stimulation might lead someone to feel patterns on a surface, instead of uniform flatness, is pushing this idea forward.

Klatzky, the Charles J. Queenan Jr. Professor of Psychology, specializes in the study of perception — discovering how people take sensory data from their receptors and turn it into actions. “I work with people who create changes in friction on glass phones and tablet surfaces using engineering tricks,” she says. She believes this eventually will help her team develop haptic technology that will produce different tactile effects, like a swatch of velvet on a smartphone screen or a raised graph on the surface of a tablet computer.

Making technology useful is a hallmark of her efforts. Her previous work focused on the development of the UCSB Personal Guidance system, which was a navigation aid for the blind that harnessed GPS. Other research is also geared toward application, which she says isn’t common across the field of cognitive science but certainly holds true here: “Carnegie Mellon wants to educate people to do useful work in the world, and that applies to my whole department.”

With a combination of expertise, collaboration and a pioneering outlook, Klatzky's work has the potential to change the way people see — and feel — the world.