At its core, haptics refers to anything related to the sense of touch. However, in a technological context it specifically relates to the generation of tactile sensations that are designed to transmit information through the sense of touch.
Your sense of touch can have a powerful effect on your perception of your other senses. This means that haptic feedback can have a powerful effect on how immersed we feel in activities such as gaming and exercise. We’re currently investigating how best to incorporate it into the Gauntlet, our unique, resistance-adding wearable.
Haptic Feedback vs Haptic Technology
Haptics, haptic technology, and haptic feedback are three terms that are frequently used interchangeably. However, there are subtle distinctions between them.
Haptic technology refers to the specific technologies that simulate tactile sensations—the motors and drivers used to generate the sensations. On the other hand, haptic feedback describes the way in which touch is used to communicate with users.
More generally, ‘haptics’ is often used as an all-encompassing term covering both definitions, along with the physiology and neuroscience of touch.
Our Sense of Touch
We use our senses to understand, explore, and interact with the world around us. After vision, touch is often considered to be the most important way for humans to receive and interpret sensory input. Touch is intrinsically linked to an individual’s sense of presence and body ownership, and can also help us to communicate our emotions. Different parts of the body have different densities of mechanoreceptors—the cells responsible for our sense of touch—meaning areas like the hands, feet and face are particularly sensitive to haptic feedback.
Where Are Haptics Now?
In short, everywhere! Technology such as screens and speakers intrinsically lacks the sense of immersion provided by touch. Until quite recently, this sense was only accounted for in a very limited capacity, but nowadays producers of electronic devices are heavily invested in haptic technologies. From consumer electronics right up to industrial machinery, haptic feedback plays a key role in communicating information when it’s needed most—helping designers build safer, more engaging experiences.
Over the years there have been many advancements in haptic technology. From the most lowly eccentric rotating mass (ERM), to the most advanced linear resonant actuator (LRA), you’ll find haptics in all kinds of devices. Perhaps one of the best known are the tiny actuators used in mobile phones. Far from simply alerting you to another incoming email, haptics are used to simulate all manor of physical sensations. Done correctly, you won’t even realise what’s happened—it will just feel right.
Further developments involve the use of powerful magnets, or other advanced techniques such as microfluidics, friction modulation, and the use of levers to exert force on a user’s body. Beyond that, some clever folks have recently come up with contactless haptic technology. Think ultrasound and lasers creating tactile sensation in mid-air… pretty cool, right?
Why People Use Haptics
Haptics have repeatedly demonstrated their power in interaction design. Not only do they create a sense of realism and immersion, but they can also improve user experience. The technology also has a unique ability to communicate with users due to the visceral, emotional experience of touch.
The Bottom Line
In technology and beyond, the power of touch has long been overlooked, but the explosive development of haptics in recent years demonstrates their value in diverse applications. As such, we are keeping a keen eye on developments in this area, and how best to incorporate them into the experience of Quell.
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