Professor Janis Jefferies & Professor Robert Zimmer

MFA,Academy of Fine Arts, Poznan, Poland

SB MIT, MA Cambridge, PhD Columbia


Professor Janis Jefferies (MFA, Academy of Fine Arts, Poznan, Poland) is an artist, writer and curator. She is director of the Constance Howard Resource and Research Centre as well as Artistic Director of Goldsmiths Digital Studios. She was trained as a painter and later pioneered the field of contemporary textiles within visual and material culture, internationally through exhibitions and texts. In the last five years she has been working on technological based arts, including Woven Sound (with Dr. Tim Blackwell) and has been a principal investigator on projects involving, for example, new haptics technologies and generative software systems for creating and interpreting arts objects. She is PI on an AHRC funded E-Static Shadows practice-based research project (2007-2009), with Dr. Zane Berinza as primary Research Fellow. The project investigates how electrostatic energy can be utilised to play a part in the development of responsive and interactive intelligent systems.  Jefferies is an associate researcher with Hexagram (Institute of Media, Arts and Technologies, Montreal, Canada) on two projects, electronic textiles and new forms of media communication in cloth. She is a member of AHRC Peer review College and Visual Arts and Media Research panel.

Professor Robert Zimmer (SB MIT, MA Cambridge, PhD Columbia) Co-Director of Goldsmiths Digital Studios and Head of the Department of Computing. Studied mathematics and, after his Phd, moved towards the mathematics of verifying software and hardware systems. This research led to the formation of a company that, at its peak had over 100 employees in the UK and the US, and also led to Zimmer co-writing with Professor Tony Ambler (Chairman of the Electronic Engineering at the University of Texas Austin) the UK Nuclear Industry’s guidelines for the use of Application Specific Integrated Circuits in Reactor Protection systems. For the last five years he has worked with artists on several projects and has directed research on software for non-linear film production and hardware/software for touch interfaces to computing systems.

Issues and Interests

We aim to develop an entirely new kind of peripheral through which a user could touch, feel, and manipulate objects across the Internet, a  haptic interface (the word “haptic” comes from the Greek root haptikos, from haptesthai, meaning to grasp, touch; for a more complete definition, see Srinivasan (1995)) that enables closer approximation to natural touch through not only feedback of forces of contact to the user, but also their spatial distribution on the skin.
We are working towards a natural haptic display. This work includes an exploration of technology and of textile surfaces for the skin of the display. The research trajectory is pleasingly symmetric as we will explore textiles that can be used in computer peripherals that will be used to explore textiles from a distance. To close this loop requires serious interactions between engineers, computer scientists, and textile artists.

To be more specific, we want to  address the following questions:

  1. How can tactile pin arrays be integrated with devices rendering force feedback?
  2. What are the best strategies for the stimulation of the mechanoreceptors of the skin?
  3. What are the best ways to haptically render the textural properties of virtual materials?
  4. How can skin be directly and spatially stimulated , rather than simply one finger in a thimble or a hand grasping a stylus, as is the commercial state-of-the-art?
  5. How can tactile display devices be embedded in a physical material?
  6. What are the best materials to use?
  7. How natural can the interface become?
  8. How engaging do users find these interfaces?

Further reading

‘Accessing Material Art Through Technologies of Mediation and Immediation,’ Futures 39/10 (2007) pp.1178-90. 1SSN 0016-3287.

‘Touch Technologies and Museum Access ‘, Touch in Museum: Policy and Practice in Object Handling edited by Helen Chatterjee (Deputy Director of Museums & Collections and a Lecturer in Biology at University College London), Berg Publishers, 2008, ISBN 9781847882387