We propose a technique that allows an unprecedented level of dexterity in electrical muscle stimulation (EMS), i.e., it allows interactive EMS-based devices to flex the user’s fingers independently of each other. EMS is a promising technique for force feedback because of its small form factor when compared to mechanical actuators. However, the current EMS approach to flexing the user’s fingers (i.e., attaching electrodes to the base of the forearm, where finger muscles anchor) is limited by its inability to flex a target finger’s metacarpophalangeal (MCP) joint independently of the other fingers. In other words, current EMS devices cannot flex one finger alone, they always induce unwanted actuation to adjacent fingers. To tackle the lack of dexterity, we propose and validate a new electrode layout that places the electrodes on the back of the hand, where they stimulate the interossei/lumbricals muscles in the palm, which have never received attention with regards to EMS. In our user study, we found that our technique offers four key benefits when compared to existing EMS electrode layouts: our technique (1) flexes all four fingers around the MCP joint more independently; (2) has less unwanted flexion of other joints (such as the proximal interphalangeal joint); (3) is more robust to wrist rotations; and (4) reduces calibration time. Therefore, our EMS technique enables applications for interactive EMS systems that require a level of flexion dexterity not available until now. We demonstrate the improved dexterity with four example applications: three musical instrumental tutorials (piano, drum, and guitar) and a VR application that renders force feedback in individual fingers while manipulating a yo-yo.
The ACM CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (https://chi2021.acm.org/)