The Vanderbilt Haptic Paddle


The haptic paddle (shown in Figure 1) is a motorized force-feedback joystick which allows students to feel forces  generated by interactions with various virtual environments. It was originally developed and used as a teaching tool for dynamic systems at Stanford University.  Since then, many universities, including Johns Hopkins University, Rice University, University of Michigan, and University of Utah, have contributed to the development of this inexpensive, portable haptic device (see the EduHaptics webpage for more information).  At Vanderbilt University, we have incorporated the haptic paddle in the System Dynamics laboratories (see below) and have made many improvements in both hardware and software. These improvements are efforts from the Medical and Electromechanical Design (MED) Lab in the Department of Mechanical Engineering. In collaboration with California State University Long Beach (CSULB), we have also implemented the haptic paddle into an Introduction to Mechanical Engineering course and a graduate level haptics course (materials coming soon).

Figure 1: The haptic paddle laboratory enables students to apply theoretical concepts learned in lecture to characterize
their physical hardware, integrate it with electrical hardware, and "close the loop" through modeling and simulation.


We have made several improvements to the haptic paddle, making it a more robust, portable, and inexpensive teaching device.
The primary goal in the development of the haptic paddle kit was to minimize the cost of constructing a haptic paddle, to accelerate classroom integration and other dissemination efforts. Unlike high-end haptic devices which cost thousands of dollars, the Vanderbilt Haptic paddle can be assembled for less than $100 including all components except the PC. Another equally important goal of the haptic paddle kit is dissemination at all levels of education. For this reason, downloads of all materials associated with the haptic paddle are provided below.

Course Application and Materials

At Vanderbilt University, the paddle is the focus of the ME 234 System Dynamics Laboratory.  System Dynamics is junior-level mechanical engineering course that is required for all mechanical engineering majors at Vanderbilt, and the laboratory is a component of the course that requires additional meeting times outside of the lecture. In lab, students work in small teams of 3-4 students, whom they work with for all of the lab sessions. There are a total of 5 lab sessions (3 hours each) in which students characterize, construct, analyze, and interact with their haptic paddle system. You can check out some of the cool lab activities on this short video! Furthermore, below are all of the documents used in the haptic paddle laboratory for Vanderbilt's System Dynamics course. 
In collaboration with CSULB, the Haptic Paddle is also being used at both the introductory undergraduate and graduate level. In MAE 101B, an undergraduate Introduction to Mechanical Engineering course, students use the haptic paddle to explore the concepts of Hooke's Law and equivalent stiffness of springs in series and parallel configurations. In MAE 578, a graduate Haptic Systems for Virtual Reality and Teleoperation course, students will design and analyze a haptic simulation in Matlab using the haptic paddle. Materials for both of these CSULB courses will be coming soon!

Education Research

          In a course on dynamic systems, having the capability “to feel what the system feels” is beneficial in developing intuition and conceptual understanding.  In order to assess the effectiveness of the haptic paddle laboratories in increasing student understanding, we have expanded and enhanced preliminary studies on haptic paddle effectiveness, resulting in a rigorous assessment of student learning in in-class lectures, labs, and in-lab instructions independently.  We developed 25 conceptual, multiple choice questions (5 questions per laboratory), that relate to the specific key concepts students should learn from the haptic paddle laboratories.  We administered all 25 questions at the start of the semester in order to assess students' initial understanding of the course material, and we administered the 5 relevant questions at the time of each lab.  Since we have 4 student sections, we were able to administer the quiz at different times during the lab including 1) at the beginning of lab, 2) after an oral lab introduction that addresses the questions, 3) at the end of the lab session, and 4) at the beginning of the next lab (after the students completed the lab reported).  Both the 25 question assessment, and the lab quizzes can be downloaded here.
          The results of a two-year analyses suggest an overall increase in student understanding from before and after lab in all of the lab assignments.  Please read our 2012 ASEE paper for an in-depth discussion of our results.


This project was supported in part by a Curriculum Development Grant sponsored by The MathWorks, Inc.


1. J. L. Gorlewicz, L. B. Kratchman, and R. J. Webster III. Enhancements and Formal Assessments of the Haptic Paddle. Computers and Education, 2012. (Submitted).
2. J. L. Gorlewicz and R. J. Webster III. A formal assessment of the haptic paddle laboratories in teaching system dynamics. American Society of Engineering Education, 2012.


1. J. L. Toennies and D. C. Rucker. Getting a Feel for Dynamic Systems. Presented at CIRTL TAR Symposium and Vanderbilt University Graduate Research Symposium, 2009.

2. J. L. Gorlewicz and R. J. Webster III. A Hands-On Approach to Teaching System Dynamics. Presented at National CIRTL Forum, 2011.