Hong Z. Tan

Hong Z. Tan

Hong Z. Tan is a Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering with courtesy appointments in Mechanical Engineering and Psychological Sciences at Purdue University. Her research focuses on haptic human-machine interfaces and haptic perception. She has published more than 120 peer-reviewed journal and conference articles in haptics research. She is known internationally as a leading expert on haptics psychophysics, taking a perception-based approach to solving engineering problems. She is frequently invited to give keynote speeches at international conferences and research institutions, educating a broad audience on haptics and its emerging applications in human computer interaction, robotics, medicine and education.
    Tan received her Bachelor's degree in Biomedical Engineering from Shanghai Jiao Tong University, P.R. China. She earned her Master and Doctorate degrees, both in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). She was a Research Scientist at the MIT Media Lab before joining the faculty at Purdue's School of Electrical and Computer Engineering in 1998. She has held a McDonnell Visiting Fellowship at Oxford University, a Visiting Associate Professorship in the Department of Computer Science at Stanford University, and a Guest Researcher position in the Institute of Life Science and Technology at Shanghai Jiao Tong University. From 2011-2015, Tan was a Visiting Researcher, then a Senior Researcher and Research Manager at Microsoft Research Asia in Beijing, China.
    Tan was a recipient of the prestigious US National Science Foundation's Early Faculty Development (CAREER) Award, and she was a Chinese National Natural Science Funds' Distinguished (Overseas) Young Scholar. In addition to serving on numerous program committees, she was a co-organizer (with Blake Hannaford) of the International Symposium on Haptic Interfaces for Virtual Environment and Teleoperator Systems from 2003 to 2005. In 2006, Tan served as the Founding Chair of the IEEE Technical Committee on Haptics (TCH). The TCH played a key role in launching the IEEE Transactions on Haptics (ToH) in 2008. Tan has served as a ToH Associate Editor from the journal's birth to 2012, and received a Meritorious Service Award in 2012. From 2012-2015, Tan was the Editor-in-Chief of the World Haptics Conference Editorial Board, and she co-chaired the World Haptics Conference with Ed Colgate in 2015. In 2017, Tan was elevated to IEEE Fellow for "contributions to wearable haptics."

Current and Select Past Positions

    Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Purdue University
    Professor of Mechanical Engineering (courtesy), Purdue University
    Professor of Psychological Sciences (courtesy), Purdue University
    Guest Professor, School of Psychology, Beijing Normal University
    Founder and Director, Haptic Interface Research Laboratory, Purdue University
    Faculty Advisor, TaeKwonDo Club, Purdue University

    Fellow, Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), for "contributions to wearable haptics"

    Fellow (2013-2014), Executive Leadership in Academic Technology and Engineering (ELATE) Program
    Editor-in-Chief of the Conference Editorial Board (2012-2015) & Co-General Chair (2015), IEEE World Haptics Conference
    Visiting Researcher (2011-2012) and Senior Researcher & Research Manager (2012-2015), HCI Group, Microsoft Research Asia, China

Publications (on a separate page)

Google Scholar Citation Index

Current Projects

    Sensory Substitution   We develop multimodal interfaces to help not only the deaf and/or the blind, but all users who may occasionally be challenged by "situational-blindness." The term can refer to cyclists who should not be looking at their mobile phone for navigation signals, runners who should not be looking at their sports watch for running speed, and drivers who should not be looking at anything else but the road ahead.
    Virtual/Augmented Reality (VR/AR)   We have developed three VR applications for sports training -- footbal (receiver training for catching a football from any direction), baseball (hand-eye coordination training), and Taekwondo (training for kicking/breaking a target). We use haptic feedback to indicate collision with a virtual object (e.g., football).
    Emotional Communication   We work with UX designers to explore ways for people to connect emotionly over a long distance. The envisioned users include parent-child (e.g., a child who is away in college), close friends, collaborators and lovers.
    Tactile Speech Communication   We devise ways for speech information to be received on the skin, and conduct research on training protocols. We employ wearable tactor arrays that have the capacity to deliver more information content than simple alert and warning signals.


Tactile Phonemic Sleeve

Haptic Demos at Microsoft TechFest 2014     sensingChair at SIGGRAPH2001     SlickFeel at UIST 2012     Haptic Simulation of Mass-Spring Systems

Contact Information:

  Prof. Hong Z Tan
  Purdue University EE Building
  465 Northwestern Avenue
  West Lafayette, IN 47907
  Phone: +1.765.494.6416
  Email: Hong Tan's Email Address

Why I Work on Haptic Interfaces

Of the five major human senses of vision, audition, taction (touch and proprioception), olfaction and gustation, only the first three have been engaged in most human-machine interface research. Of these three, a disproportional majority of work has been conducted on visual and auditory systems. Historically, work on tactile displays have been motivated by the desire to develop sensory-substitution systems for the visually or hearing impaired. The importance of vision and audition is implied by the need to replace them with other sensory modalities when they cease to function well. The existence of a more or less intact tactual sensory system is often taken for granted.
    One way to appreciate our tactual sensory system is to consider what happens if it is impaired. Although clinical occurrences of such cases are rare (how many of us have ever met a deafferented person?), deafferented individuals suffer serious consequences from loss of peripheral organs (due to lack of protective sensory inputs) to being completely wheelchair bound. After all, the skin is the largest organ on the human body. Without its proper functions, we cannot gracefully perform even the simplest task of picking up an object. This last point is demonstrated by the fact that in the absence of any contact sensors, visually guided robotic fingers either crush or drop delicate objects such as glasses or eggs.

It is time that we develop human-machine interfaces that engage our sense of touch, and build robots and objects with "touchy feelings".