Our tactile perception of external objects depends on skin-object interactions.
The mechanics of contact, which is to touch what light is to vision, dictates the existence of fundamental spatiotemporal input features. It is unknown whether these features are represented within the brain. We delivered such inputs to the glabrous skin of digital pads and recorded from neurons in the cuneate nucleus, the brain’s first level of tactile processing. Surprisingly, despite having similar receptive fields and response properties, each cuneate neuron responded to a unique combination of these inputs. Hence, haptic inputs were encoded already at the level of second-order neurons. This finding and may call for a re-evaluation of our current understanding of the brain’s somatosensory systems.
Vincent Hayward (Dr.-Ing. 1981, Univ. de Paris XI, Fellow of the IEEE ’08) was Postdoctoral Fellow then Visiting Assistant Professor (1982) at Purdue University, and joined CNRS, France, as Chargé de Recherches in 1983. He joined the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at McGill University (1987) as assistant and eventually full professor (2006). He was the Director of the McGill Center for Intelligent Machines from 2001 to 2004 and held the “Chaire internationale d’haptique” at the Université Pierre et Marie Curie (2008-2010) where he is now a Professor. Hayward is interested in haptic device design, haptic perception, and published more than 80 articles in scientific journals as well as 150 articles in international conferences and collections. Hayward co-founded spin-off companies and received several best paper and research awards.