Shortly after touching an object, humans can tactually gauge the frictional resistance of a surface. The knowledge of surface friction is paramount to tactile perception and the motor control of grasp. While potent correlations between friction and participants' perceptual response have been found, the causal link between the friction of the surface, its evolution and its perceptual experience has yet to be demonstrated. Here, we leverage new experimental apparatus able to modify friction in real time, to show that participants can perceive sudden changes in friction when they are pressing on a surface. Surprisingly, only a reduction of the friction coefficient leads to a robust perception. High-speed imaging data indicate that the sensation is caused by a release of a latent elastic strain over a 20 ms timeframe after the activation of the friction-reduction device. This rapid change of frictional properties during initial contact is interpreted as a normal displacement of the surface, which paves the way for haptic surfaces that can produce illusions of interacting with mechanical buttons.
- skin mechanics
- surface haptics
- tactile perception
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