Physicists use Atomic Force Microscopes (AFMs) to obtain “images” of matter at a very small scale. An AFM is essentially a tiny mechanical probe that is moved on the sample of matter. The movement of the beam holding the probe is measured and translated into an visual representation (or topography) of the sample surface.
When a haptic device is connected to the AFM, the operator can take over the control of the probe in a very intuitive way: the movement of the user’s hand is scaled several million times and applied to the probe. The deflection of the beam, which corresponds to a infinitesimal force, is scaled up several million times, and applied to the user’s hand.
Such haptic nanomanipulators allow the user to feel the actual tip–sample interaction during the manipulation process. Various modes of manipulation can be implemented for different applications, e.g. contact-mode nanomanipulation of a carbon nanotube, or non-contact manipulation of silicon beads. In addition to nanomanipulation itself, haptic nanomanipulation systems can record all relevant signals during the manipulation process, which allows for quantitative interpretation of nanomechanics experiments.