How to measure the area of real contact of skin on glass

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The contact between the fingertip and an object is formed by a collection of micro-scale junctions, which collectively constitute the real contact area. This real area of contact is only a fraction of the apparent area of contact and is directly linked to the frictional strength of the contact (i.e., the lateral force at which the finger starts sliding). As a consequence, a measure of this area of real contact can help probe into the mechanism behind the friction of skin on glass. In this article, we present two methods to measure the variations of contact area;one that improves upon a tried-and-true fingertip imaging technique to provide ground truth, and the other that relies on the absorption and reflection of acoustic energy. To achieve precise measurements, the ultrasonic method exploits a recently developed model of the interaction that incorporates the non-linearity of squeeze film levitation. The two methods are in good agreement (= 0.94) over a large range of normal forces and vibration amplitudes. Since the real area of contact fundamentally underlies fingertip friction, the methods described in the article have importance for studying human grasping, understanding friction perception, and controlling surface-haptic devices.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)235-241
JournalIEEE Transactions on Haptics
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2021

Bibliographical note

Accepted Author Manuscript


  • Acoustic waves
  • Acoustics
  • Area measurement
  • Biomechanics
  • Contact Imaging
  • Force
  • Friction
  • Junctions
  • Optical surface waves
  • Sensors
  • Skin
  • Tactile devices


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