Volunteer Spotlight: J. Edward Colgate

Volunteer spotlight on J. Edward Colgate

The IEEE Computer Society's Publishing Services Department continues its "Volunteer Spotlight" series with our interview of J. Edward Colgate, inaugural and recently reappointed EIC of IEEE Transactions on Haptics, who explains what the field of haptics is and how it applies in our everyday lives.

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Q. Congratulations on your reappointment as EIC, what do you hope to accomplish during your second term?

A. Thank you! It really seems like just yesterday when I got started, and the job is a lot of fun, yet far from done, so I was happy to take on another term. This past couple of years has been something of a headlong rush making lot of large and small decisions, assembling an editorial board, establishing procedures, and basically learning the ropes. Now that we are a bit more established, it's time for some reflection and, no doubt, some tweaks to the way that we do things. One of the interesting characteristics of the haptics community is that almost everyone in it has another, larger community of which they are a part, be it robotics, psychophysics, human-computer interaction, neuroscience, simulation and rendering, or something else. Publishing in ToH may expose one's work to a smaller community, but arguably it is the *right* community. I want to understand the needs of our prospective authors, as well as our readers and those who have submitted papers, to ensure that ToH is, more often than not, the journal of choice.

Q. What is the field of haptics, for those not familiar with it, and what do you find most interesting about it?

A. Haptics has to do with perceiving the world via touch and manipulation. Groping for a light switch in a darkened room, finding it, and flipping it on, is haptics. Along with vision and audition, haptics is one of the major perceptual systems that enables us to interact with the world. The modern study of haptics generally traces its origins to the seminal work of Katz in the 1920s, but things really started to blossom in the late 80s and early 90s when people got the notion of building haptic interfaces. Before that time we had computer monitors and stereo systems, but no good way to interact with virtual environments via touch. Today, one can find an increasing variety of haptic displays in an increasing variety of applications. At the same time, these haptic displays have become valuable research tools for those who seek to understand the psychology and neuroscience of haptic perception.

Q. The journal has several special issues coming up, can you explain why you felt these topic areas would be interesting to our readers?

A. Our next special issue is on Haptics in Medicine and Clinical Skill Acquisition. The importance of haptics in medicine is pretty obvious if you think about all of the things that medical professionals do with their hands, from detecting diseased tissue to inserting needles to performing surgery. As more and more training makes use of simulators and more and more procedures make use of robots and other instruments that add distance between the doctor and patient, it becomes imperative to understand the how and why of haptics. After that, we will have an issue on Haptics in Consumer Electronics. This is a somewhat different story. Many of us remember electronics equipment such as calculators and stereo tuners that were iconic in part because of the luxurious feel of their knobs and buttons, but no more! Today, touch screens are the norm, and there is little to feel other than the occasional vibration. But haptics researchers are starting to change all of that with a combination of innovative technologies and new concepts in human-computer interaction that make meaningful use of haptic feedback. This should be a very exciting special issue. And if those two issues aren't enough, just wait. We have a couple of more special issues in the works as well.

Q. With your involvement in industry and academia, what has been a benefit of being involved with a nonprofit organization?

A. What I really enjoy in life is helping to get new things started. I've started a couple of companies, and a lot of academic programs, but I've never had more satisfaction than helping get ToH started. I think that this is specifically because ToH is a volunteer endeavor, run by a highly-respected nonprofit. People get involved for the right reasons, and everyone, from the Computer Society staff, to the Editorial Board, the Management Committee, and the IEEE itself, has been great to work with.

Q. You recently expressed interest in possibly transitioning ToH to the new OnlinePlus publication model, can you explain why you find it appealing?

A. To begin, I have to sing the praises of services like CSDL and Xplore, not to mention these used in conjunction with a good search engine like Google Scholar. The speed and accuracy with which one can find source material is mind-boggling. These days, if I want to find a paper in haptics, I'm much more likely to go to one of these places or to the ToH website than I am to walk the six feet across my office and flip through my stack of issues. But that's only when I know what I'm looking for, or at least some good search terms. What I believe is so important is, well, serendipity. New and exciting ideas so often come from *not* knowing what one is looking for! It is tremendously important that we in scientific publishing continue to push content out to the community in some form so that researches have the chance to "happen upon" new ideas that will take their research in new directions. OnlinePlus is a an interesting model for this, combining online archiving with push, via a small pamphlet of abstracts and a DVD. To be honest, I think it will take a while for the industry to find exactly the right model, but I'm encouraged by the effort.

Q. How do you balance life and work?

A. I'm definitely a family-oriented person, a set of values that I learned from my parents. My wife and I have two teenage sons and we love being there as they pursue their passions (not haptics, I'm afraid!). But I've long remembered advice given to me when I was still in high school: do what you love, and you'll never "work" a day in your life. So, to me, ToH isn't work at all. It's just a wonderful part of life.