At A Glance – Haptic Technology

Communicating through touch

The term haptics covers any kind of communication which occurs via touch. Our ability to interact with objects by way of touch is a crucial aspect of many modern technologies, with its most commonplace application found in the touchscreens of our smartphones and tablets. This important feature notwithstanding, with its ever increasing levels of sensitivity, reliability and accuracy, haptics is finding its way into more and more devices and applications.

An exciting current field in haptics is developing around its use in virtual reality and computer simulations. Whilst virtual reality programmes have become more advanced in recent years, they will find more concrete real world applications when users are able to interact with the virtual worlds they are immersed in. The manipulation of virtual objects can be made more authentic and effective through the use of haptic feedback, generating the same sense of touch for virtual things that would be felt with their real world counterparts.

In 2015 researchers from the University of Tokyo developed touchable holography – 3D holograms which are able to stimulate human touch by emitting pressure in the form of ultrasound radiation. As incredible as this may seem, it means that when a person ‘touches’ a hologram they can actually feel it. What’s more, the holographic item will respond to the force exerted upon it just as it would in real life.

Beyond the world of immersive gaming, haptics has serious and life changing implications in medicine. It is now possible to integrate prosthetics with haptic feedback, giving amputees a simulated sense of touch. Recreating natural haptics in patients with prosthetics helps them to feel that their artificial limb is part of their body, improving their intuitive sense of where their prosthetic is and giving them greater control in manipulating objects.