Haptic technology refers to any device that stimulates the sense of touch of its users by exerting forces, motions, or vibrations. The technology is also called 3D touch or kinaesthetic communication.
In simpler terms, haptic technology makes virtual objects or events react in the physical environment or to the human body. Hence, the next time you feel a vibration from your phone or smartwatch, know that haptic technology is in play.
Of course, the technology has broader applications outside video gaming. This article will discuss the history of haptic technology, its purpose, real-world applications, and how it relates to the metaverse.
History of Haptic Technology
The earliest application of haptic technology was in mechanical engines like automobiles and aircraft. Large aircraft use servomechanism systems to adjust their speed or altitude and to operate control surfaces.
Meanwhile, the first patent rights related to haptic devices were issued in the 1970s. For instance, Thomas Shannon obtained the first-ever US patent for a tactile telephone in 1973. Also, Michael Noll got a patent for inventing a tactile communication system in 1975.
Afterward, the Aura Interactor vest, which converts sound waves to vibrations, was developed in 1994. This vest can translate the sound of a punch or kick from a movie into real action, which the wearer will feel.
Furthermore, Thomas Massie produced a device in 1995 that makes it possible to feel virtual objects. Users insert their fingers into the receptor and will feel the shape and size of things displayed on a computer screen. Thomas called this innovation the PHANTOM system.
Purpose of Haptic Feedback
The human body has five senses: sight, touch, hearing, taste, and smell. However, electronic and communication devices primarily use our senses of hearing and sight.
The sense of touch is our most intimate means of communication as humans. Touching things not only helps us to know their actual shape and size. It also promotes a lasting and memorable relationship with family and other people. Similarly, touch is the first mode of communication between a mother and her child.
The intensity of touch helps us understand the message someone is passing. It can also help you know if someone agrees or disagrees with you. Likewise, it is not hard for humans to recognize a violent touch from a loving one.
Accordingly, engineers are developing haptic feedback systems. These systems will allow humans to use their sense of touch in interacting with electronic devices and even in the metaverse.
The following are standard haptic feedback technologies:
Vibrotactile feedback is a term that describes the feeling of sound. This form of haptic technology is the most common among electronic devices. For example, vibrotactile feedback is what happens when your phone vibrates.
While vibrotactile haptic is essential, it cannot deliver complete haptic feedback.
For instance, when you fire a gun in a virtual reality game, a high-quality vibrotactile device will deliver the vibrations of the gunfire. However, you will not feel the kickback, force, or pressure from firing the gun.
Force feedback in haptic technology helps the computer or digital device to touch you back. Otherwise, we may say it allows humans to feel the force of objects in a virtual environment.
Oculus Touch and Novint Falcon are examples of devices that deliver force control. With Novint Falcon, players can touch objects and feel events happening in virtual reality. Also, professionals can use the Falcon 3D touch device in a virtual workspace.
In addition, force feedback occurs when playing direct-drive racing games. Here, the force players exact on a physical steering wheel is accurately simulated in the video game.
Surface haptics refers to the feedback that occurs when you touch the surface of an electronic device like a touch screen.
Ultrasonic mid-air feedback
A focused pressure of ultrasound waves can produce a tactile sensation on a finger that is not touching anything. This form of haptic feedback helps create technologies allowing humans to handle or feel objects in 3D virtual worlds.
Recently, Apple obtained a patent for ultrasonic haptic soundwaves but did not disclose whatever it intends to do with the patent.
Microfluidic haptic devices work by pushing air or harmless liquid into feedback points in smart devices. The purpose is to simulate pressure or temperature from a virtual environment on the user and generate haptic feedback.
Haptic feedback systems produce tactile sensations that humans can feel on their bodies. While the phenomenon is all-encompassing, engineers are careful not to include sensations like pain or extreme temperatures in their design.
For example, when bullets hit your character in a video game, you might want to feel the pressure or kickback that follows it. At the same time, no one will want to experience the real pain of being shot.
Even in pressure or temperature-related sensations, developers must limit the intensity of what users will feel. Such precautions are essential to avoid hurting users of haptic devices.
Applications of Haptic Technology
Haptic technology has multiple benefits. It is helpful for remote industrial training, sensory substitution, human rehabilitation virtual exercise, automobile safety, etc.
Consider some available applications of haptic feedback:
Health Tech: haptic feedback can help train dentists and vets. Also, surgeons can perform telepresence surgery on patients. Tactile feedback provides accurate simulations even though the surgeon works from a distance.
Moreover, vibrotactile feedback can be used to produce devices for maintaining balance impairment in older people.
Video Games: modern arcade games such as direct-drive racing deliver road-like experiences on the steering wheel.
In like manner, some game controllers like the PS 5 DualSense controller are built to simulate trigger effect intensity. As a result, players feel real pressure when pulling a trigger and resistance when drawing a bow.
Virtual reality: while most VR and AR devices do not feature haptic feedback, some VR controllers feature vibrotactile feedback (haptic vibrations).
Meanwhile, a Washington-based VR device producer, HaptX, has included haptic feedback in its design. According to HaptX, their VR gloves provide true-contact haptics using microfluidic skin and force feedback exoskeleton.
Regardless of the current state of haptics in VR devices, tactile feedback will play an essential role in developing the metaverse. Consequently, we can only expect that future VR and AR devices will be fully integrated with haptic feedback systems.