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January/February 2003

University Researchers
Developing Dental Simulator

 Haptic, or touch-sensitive, computer simulators that will help train dental students to elicit and recognize the sensations in a dentist's fingertips are being developed at the University of Iowa's Center for Computer-Aided Design. University of Iowa professor and researcher Geb Thomas has received a $330,225 award from the National Science Foundation for the project.

The simulator uses a computer to control a pen-shaped handle. It operates like a three-dimensional computer mouse by moving a cursor through a 3-D virtual reality field. It will be developed around the primary criterion of force signal fidelity, with other competing design criteria including simulated tooth surfaces, hardness and visual appearance, along with the precise shape and feel of a dental tool handle.

The project will ultimately compare the performance of dentists trained with the simulator against those trained using traditional methods and will make an important contribution to the growing field of haptic simulation in medical training.