IEEE World Haptics 2017

Keynote Speakers

Olaf Blanke, Professor

Laboratory of Cognitive Neuroscience Brain-Mind Institute
Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne
Department of Neurology, University of Geneva

Experience engineering, neuroscience research and medical applications

Modern robotic and haptic technology in the form of surgical robotics, prosthetics and rehabilitation robotics has been widely applied for the improvement of surgical procedures, the training of new abilities, and the restoration of lost sensorimotor functions. However, despite these important achievements, I believe that robotic devices are not sufficiently employed to study or enhance consciousness and cognition: the most important and astonishing features of the human mind (cognetics) (Rognini & Blanke, 2016). Cognetics and cognetic devices are haptic interfaces able to render and combine artificial multisensory stimuli with movement and related motor signals, based on recent findings that perception and bodily awareness, including complex sensations, is based on multisensory and sensorimotor integration. In this talk, I will, first, introduce our cognetics-based experimental approach and describe our latest research findings using new robotic-haptic interfaces as applied to the neuroscience of consciousness and bodily awareness. Second, I will describe our ongoing translational studies in robotic psychiatry where we investigate the diagnostic potential of our robotic devices in patients with schizophrenia that suffer from alterations of consciousness such as hallucinations and delusions.


Olaf Blanke, MD, is founding director of the Center for Neuroprosthetics and Bertarelli Foundation Chair in Cognitive Neuroprosthetics at the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL). He also directs the Laboratory of Cognitive Neuroscience at EPFL and is Professor of Neurology at Geneva University Hospital and Geneva’s new Campus Biotech. Blanke’s research focuses on the neuroscience of multisensory perception, consciousness, and the self with impact in psychology, philosophy, neurology and engineering. Most recently, Blanke has pioneered the development of cognetics by integrating technologies from robotics, virtual reality, and neuroscience. His medical activities (cogniceuticals) are dedicated to the application of these neurotechnological breakthroughs to novel diagnostics and therapeutics in orthopaedic and neurological patients (chronic pain) and psychiatric disease (robotic psychiatry).

Allison Okamura, Professor

Department of Mechanical Engineering
Stanford University

Let’s be Flexible: Soft Haptics and Soft Robotics

While traditional robotic manipulators are constructed from rigid links and localized joints, a new generation of robotic devices are soft, using flexible, deformable materials. In this talk, I will describe several new systems that leverage softness to achieve novel shape control, provide a compliant interface to the human body, and access hard-to-reach locations. First, soft haptic devices change their shape and mechanical properties to allow medical simulation and new paradigms for human-computer interface. They can be made wearable by people or by objects in the environment, as needed to assist human users. Second, superelastic materials and 3D-printed soft plastics enable surgical robots that can steer within the human body in order to reach targets inaccessible via the straight-line paths of traditional instruments. These surgical robots are designed on a patient- and procedure-specific basis, to minimize invasiveness and facilitate low-cost interventions in special patient populations. Third, everting pneumatic tubes are used to create robots that can grow hundreds of times in length, steer around obstacles, and squeeze through tight spaces. These plant-inspired growing robots can achieve simple remote manipulation tasks, deliver payloads such as water or sensors in search and rescue scenarios, and shape themselves into useful structures.


Allison M. Okamura received the BS degree from the University of California at Berkeley in 1994, and the MS and PhD degrees from Stanford University in 1996 and 2000, respectively, all in mechanical engineering. She is currently Professor in the mechanical engineering department at Stanford University, with a courtesy appointment in computer science. She was previously Professor and Vice Chair of mechanical engineering at Johns Hopkins University. She has been an associate editor of the IEEE Transactions on Haptics, editor-in-chief of the IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation Conference Editorial Board, an editor of the International Journal of Robotics Research, and co-chair of the IEEE Haptics Symposium. Her awards include the 2016 Duca Family University Fellow in Undergraduate Education, 2009 IEEE Technical Committee on Haptics Early Career Award, 2005 IEEE Robotics and Automation Society Early Academic Career Award, and 2004 NSF CAREER Award. She is an IEEE Fellow. Her academic interests include haptics, teleoperation, virtual environments and simulators, medical robotics, neuromechanics and rehabilitation, prosthetics, and engineering education. Outside academia, she enjoys spending time with her husband and two children, running, and playing ice hockey. For more information about her research, please see the Collaborative Haptics and Robotics in Medicine (CHARM) Laboratory website: