What Is Haptics? Definition And Applications

The term haptic is derived from the Greek word “haptikos”, which means a sense of touch. The sense of touch can be categorized as active and passive. Haptic is mostly associated with active touch to communicate or recognize items.

It may refer to any form of interaction involving touch. For example –

  • In the field of nonverbal communication, haptic refers to the ways in which animals and people communicate and interact via the sense of touch.
  • In terms of perception, haptic means literally the ability ‘to grasp something’.
  • In technology, haptics refers to creating an experience of touch by applying forces, motions, or vibrations to the user.

In this article, we have focused on the technological aspects of haptics, including its history, implementation, and applications. Let’s start with the basics: what actually is haptics?

Definition: Haptics is the science of applying tactile sensation and control to human interaction with computer applications. A haptic device involves physical contact between a user and a computer through an input-output device, such as game controllers and joysticks.

How Is Haptics Implemented?

Haptic technology can be implemented in two ways: Vibration and Force feedback

1. Vibration: Most electronic devices offer haptic feedback via vibration. The vibration is usually generated by an electric motor consisting of an unbalanced mass on its driveshaft. When the shaft rotates, it spins the irregular mass, causing the attached device to shake.

Modern devices, such as iPhones and MacBooks, use vibration to provide haptic feedback. However, instead of electric motors, they use a magnetic voice coil to generate vibration. The mass moves in a reciprocal manner, providing shorter response timers and precise haptic imagery.

2. Force feedback: Plenty of devices use motors to control the movement of objects held by a user. Driver assistance systems and racing video games are the best examples of such devices. They rotate the steering wheel and push the accelerator or brake to simulate forces experienced when driving a real vehicle.

Applications

The earliest versions of haptic technology were first utilized in large airplanes that featured error-sensing negative feedback systems. There were used to provide warning of dangerous flight conditions so that operators can ‘feel’ and work around the unseen barriers.

An Aura Interactor force feedback vest | Image credit: Wikimedia 

In the early 1970s, the first tactile communication system was developed at Bell Telephone Lab. Two decades later, wearable force-feedback devices and systems with personal haptic interface mechanisms were developed.

Today, haptic technology has dozens of applications, ranging from robotics and medicine and virtual reality.

1. Desktops and mobile devices

Taptic engine iphoneTaptic engine embedded into an iPhone | Image credit: iFixit

Apple introduced the tactile touchpad design in the MacBook series. In 2015, the company incorporated ‘Force Touch’ trackpads in all MacBooks, which simulates clicks with a Taptic Engine. This force touch technology uses pressure sensors to add another method of input to Apple devices.

Most of the smartphones use tactile haptic feedback to let users know a touch has been accepted. Some devices use surface haptic technology that creates haptic effects on touchscreens and other physical surfaces.

Furthermore, tactile display devices provide graphical and text information using the sense of touch. They are incredibly helpful in assisting deaf or blind people.

2. Video games

Xbox one controllerXbox One controller features Impulse Trigger technology 

Arcade games, such as Fonz, began using haptic feedbacks in the mid-1970s. By the end of the 20th century, haptic devices like joysticks, game controllers, and steering wheels had become common.

Today, several joysticks and console controllers come with built-in feedback devices, including Microsft’s Impulse Trigger technology and Sony’s DualShock technology.

In 2018, Razer unveiled a wireless headset named the Nari Ultimate featuring a pair of wide frequency haptic drivers. Sony is also considering to include the resistance of the trigger controls to enable more accurate haptic feedback in PlayStation 5 controllers.

3. Automotive and aviation

Vehicle haptic

Haptic feedback technology has also been integrated into large touchscreen control panels fitted in vehicles’ dashboards. It increases safety by providing acknowledgment of touch commands so that the driver doesn’t have to take his eyes off the road.

It also provides additional haptic information, such as an alert vibration pattern when driving over the speed limit.

The aviation industry has also adopted haptic technology to communicate how maneuverability is affected by flight envelope boundaries. Haptic systems use force and stiffness feedback to mitigate the risk of pilots entering unsafe states of flights, such as stall, over-speed, or excessive load factors.

4. Robotics

The new robotic control technology called haptics is being developed to perform complex tasks via telepresence. Surgical robots, for example, allow doctors to operate form the other side of the word, or manipulate items that are too small/tight for their hands.

Several studies have shown that incorporating haptic feedback to the control of robots improves accuracy and reduces tissue damage. It can also allow physicians to train on patients that exist only in virtual reality while getting the sense of real cutting and suturing.

These types of robots would also be helpful in various situations, such as extracting people from disasters, defusing bombs, or repairing spacecraft instruments without preparing for a spacewalk.

Researchers have been able to develop a haptic glove with 120 microfluidic actuators that push against a user’s skin in the same way a reach object would. When mounted on the advanced anthropomorphic robotic hand, it can sense everything a person’s fingertips can feel, including temperature, force, and vibration.

Read: 15 Different Types of Robots | Explained

5. Medicine

Haptic medicineWhole Hand Haptics | Credit: Center for image analysis 

In the medical field, haptic interfaces are used for invasive procedure training, such as interventional radiology and laparoscopy, as well as for training dental students.

The Center for Image analysis has been working in this field for more than a decade: they have developed the HASP system that combines stereo visualization with high fidelity haptic feedback to enable preoperative testing for restoring bone fragments.

They have also designed a flexible haptic sculpting tool, a haptic alignment tool for visual assembly, and the whole hand haptics with true 3D displays.

6. Virtual Reality (VR)

haptic jacketNeoSensory’s haptic jacket

Virtual Reality haptics technology offers an extra dimension to the artificial world by letting users feel the virtual environment via the sense of touch, in addition to audiovisual perception.

Many companies are coming out with intriguing haptic products, such as torso or full-body haptic suits, to deliver a truly immersive experience.

Disney, for example, made a Force Jacket that simulates physical experiences to people wearing it. It’s a 5-pound software-controlled jacked with a valve system that inflates and deflates 26 air compartments. The jacked is designed to be used in the gaming and entertainment industry.

Another company named NeoSensory is developing a haptic jacket that lets the wearer feel the wall they have grazed, another avatar’s touch, a hug, raindrops, gunshots, and even explosions.

Read: 18 Best Augmented Reality (AR) Apps

All in all, the future of haptic technology is not limited to teleoperations and simulators. Instead, it is integrated into the entire human experience. It will allow more and more people to experience things they otherwise never would have.

Written by
Varun Kumar

Varun Kumar is a professional science and technology journalist and a big fan of AI, machines, and space exploration. He received a Master's degree in computer science from Indraprastha University. To find out about his latest projects, feel free to directly email him at [email protected] 

View all articles
Leave a reply