How Haptic Technology Is Changing the Way We Interact with the Digital World

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Although haptics and vibrations are sometimes used interchangeably when discussing cellphones, they are actually quite different. When information is given by touch, such as the pleasant click you get when pressing a virtual button on your screen or the lifelike recoil you feel when pulling the trigger on your gaming controller, this is referred to as haptics. Contrarily, notifications that draw your attention, such when your phone buzzes to indicate an approaching call, are what vibrations are.

Unlike haptics, which offers a wide range of potential uses outside of phones and controllers, vibrations may only be used to alert people about things on their phones. A foundation that promotes public interaction with science, the Royal Institution, for instance, showed how haptics can simulate touch without actual physical contact by employing only forces and vibrations in 2017.

In this article, we’ll look at what haptic technology is, how it might improve our interactions with the digital world beyond smartphones and game controllers, and how it might influence the development of mixed reality, a field that combines the real world and the virtual one.

What exactly is haptic technology?

Haptic technologies are an intriguing method to improve our contact with the digital environment. They can replicate touch by providing various stresses, vibrations, and motions to a person using the technology. This can increase our immersion in virtual reality, gaming, or remote control applications. If you press a virtual button on a screen, you might hear a click or a buzz. When you strike an obstacle while driving a car in a game, you may feel the steering wheel oppose your movement or shake.

There are various sorts of haptic technology that can generate various types of feedback. To generate vibrations, some people utilize little motors that spin or move back and forth. Eccentric rotating mass vibration (ERMV) motors or linear resonant actuators (LRAs) are the terms for this. Others employ thin materials that bend or contract in response to an electric voltage. These are referred to as piezo haptics sensors. The type of haptic technology to utilize is determined by numerous criteria, including the desired impact, cost, and available space.

Haptic technologies can be employed in a variety of ways, including:

Haptic gloves that allow users to feel and handle virtual items with their hands.
Haptic suits imitate sensations like temperature, pressure, and pain throughout the body.
Haptic displays use ultrasonic waves to cast tactile ‘images’ onto the skin.

Mid-air haptics: A new haptic technology branch

The haptics technique shown in the movie above employs a relatively recent branch of the technology known as mid-air haptics. This technique use ultrasound waves to simulate the sensation of touch in mid-air, without the use of any physical contact or wearable devices. Users can use their hands to touch and interact with objects that support the technology as if they were genuine. Consider using your bare hands to feel the shape, texture, and motion of a virtual object, or to feel a light breeze on your skin. Mid-air haptics, which employs focused ultrasonic waves to create pressure on your skin, makes this possible.

Mid-air haptics may provide a focal point of high pressure in the air that can be moved and modified to create varied feelings by utilizing an array of ultrasound transducers (or’speakers’). Mid-air haptics can also be integrated with other modalities like vision and sound to produce rich multimodal feedback. This technology has various potential applications, including augmenting virtual and augmented reality, developing touchless interfaces, and delivering unique kinds of entertainment and education.

Read Also: CIAM Technology

Who is working on mid-air haptics right now?

Ultraleap, launched in 2013 as Ultrahaptics by Tom Carter, a PhD student at the University of Bristol, is one of the leading firms in mid-air haptics. To enable natural and intuitive engagement with digital material, Ultraleap blends hand tracking and mid-air haptics. It has created a number of products and platforms, including STRATOS, Gemini, and TouchFree, which are used by a variety of sectors and partners, including DS Automobiles, Ocean Outdoor, the Aquarium of the Pacific, and Qualcomm. Ultrahaptics changed its name to Ultraleap after acquiring Leap Motion, a hand-tracking technology business, in 2019.
Hosiden, a Japanese manufacturer of electronic components and electronics, is also working on mid-air haptics. Hosiden has collaborated with Ultraleap to deliver mid-air haptics to future autos. The startup intends to leverage Ultraleap technology to provide touchless interfaces and entertainment systems for drivers and passengers, which will feature music volume, temperature, and navigation.

How can haptics in mid-air improve mixed/extended reality?

When Apple launched the Vision Pro headset to much hoopla at the WWDC event, it displayed a host of capabilities that may have never been seen on any headset before. The headset provided smartphone apps, calling, and other features directly to the eyeballs in amazing definition. The Apple headset seems to have left no stone untouched. There was one notable omission, however: haptics. Some were disappointed that the Vision Pro did not allow haptics in any fashion, owing to the lack of controls. As a result, except from visual input, there was no way to sense the elements with which one engaged or the games performed.

While Apple appears to have no ambitions in this area, haptics can play a significant part in developing highly immersive experiences in the future across worlds – whether virtual, augmented, or mixed. In MR/XR environments, for example, the technology can allow users to feel virtual objects, menus, buttons, and feedback. In MR/XR settings, it can also generate realistic sensations of wind, rain, and other natural phenomena.

Mid-air haptics applications

Users can employ haptics to investigate a wide range of MR/XR applications. They can learn and practice skills such as surgery, musical instruments, and painting in a safe and realistic environment. They can also appreciate more immersive and interesting games and movies that allow them to better feel the actions and feelings of the characters. Furthermore, they can connect and communicate with others in a more natural and expressive manner, such as shaking hands, hugging, or high-fiving.

Among the other possible applications are:

Education: Mid-air haptics can help students learn and explore by allowing them to experience and manipulate abstract concepts and phenomena like molecular structures, sound waves, and magnetic fields.

Healthcare: Mid-air haptics can improve the quality and safety of medical procedures such as palpation, needle insertion, and wound dressing by giving haptic guidance and feedback to surgeons, nurses, and patients.

Accessibility: Mid-air haptics can help people with visual impairments navigate, identify obstacles, and recognize objects by delivering spatial and directional signals.

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