Today's etymology trivia: The term haptics is derived from the Greek haptikós, meaning "able to grasp or perceive." In digital terminology, it refers to the use of tactile sensations or sense of touch as a way to interact with electronic devices. Haptics is a busy area of research and development just now, particularly with interface design, virtual reality applications and mobile devices. Here we touch on some recent development. See what we did there? Above: TheDLR Haptic User Gerät
, or HUG, was developed at the German Aerospace Center. It has two light-weight robot arms that, when engaged, give the wearer tactile and force-feedback sensations. It was designed for training programs for astronauts, mechanics and people needing limb rehabilitation.
Apple's most recent would-be game-changer, the iWatch, incorporates the company's new Taptic Engine technology, which uses precisely tuned electromagnetic oscillations to approximate the sensation of a tap on your wrist. Apple has also embedded the tech in new MacBoom trackpads, which produces the feeling of a mechanical click on a stationary piece of glass.
A recently filedpatent application
from Apple suggests that the company is just warming up, so to speak. Titled "Touch Surface for Simulating Materials," the patent describes a process by which haptic actuators would be combined with temperature-changing surfaces. For instance, an image of steel would feel cold and smooth, but wood would feel warm and grainy.
With virtual reality devices like the Oculus Rift on the horizon, haptic technology is ramping up quickly as a way to supplement the VR experience. TheHands Omni
gaming glove, designed by a team at Rice University, uses a system of small inflatable air bladders to approximate touching, pressing or gripping a virtual object.
Air is often the medium of choice in many haptic systems. TheAIREAL
device, developed at Disney's research labs, projects a vortex or ring of air which can travel relatively long distances while retaining its shape and speed. The vortex collapses upon striking the user's skin, creating a tactile sensation.
University of Bristol
The British companyUltrahaptics
, affiliated with the University of Bristol, is developing several technologies that use ultrasound to project tactile sensations through the air. The idea is to create ultrasonic virtual objects -- like control knobs and panels -- that can be manipulated without any physical contact at all.
One of Ultrahaptics many areas of research involves combining ultrasound with visual and audio elements to create haptic holograms. Using motion sensors, the system tracks the exact position of your hand and directs ultrasound to approximate basic shapes, like a sphere or cube. The visual elements are digitally inserted in the image above -- the technology for freestanding visual holograms isn't quite here yet. But you get the picture.
University of Sussex
The University of Sussex recently published results on aseries of experiments
that explored some of the psychological aspects of haptic design. According to the study, certain tactile cues on the hand can trigger or reinforce particular emotions. For instance, sharp bursts of air to the area around the thumb generate excitement, and slow stimulation of the pinkie causes sadness. Who knew?
Some new initiatives in haptics aren't that high-tech at all, but rather take advantage of existing mechanical systems like the "rumble" motors in game console controllers. Google Play recently announced a new section of games that provide haptic feedback in mobile games as well, using your phone's vibrate function. With Angry Birds, for instance, you can feel the tension of the rubber band, or the crash of the falling structures.
Artists have been incorporating haptic elements in their work for centuries, particularly in areas like sculpture and textile art. But technology has opened up new vistas for art you can touch -- consider the intriguing idea ofhaptic poetry
. An ongoing project at the University of Edinburgh is even exploring ways to bringdance and choreography
to non-sighted audiences using tablets.
For those interested in a truly comprehensive haptic experience, the U.K. company Tesla Studios is hoping to bring theirTesla Suit
to market later this year. Designed to be compatible with the Oculus Rift and newer game console systems, the Tesla is billed as a full-body suit with haptic feedback gloves, vest and trousers. Yes, haptic trousers. And we're not even going to mention the contemporary phenomenon known as theerotic haptic device
While in a lake or ocean, have you ever wondered — or perhaps tried not to wonder — about what types of objects are deep down underwater?
A new glove created by Ph.D. candidates Aisen Caro Chacin and Takeshi Ozu at Japan’s Tsukuba University can now provide some answers.
The glove IrukaTact, named after the Japanese word for dolphin (“iruka”), translates sonic signals into haptic feedback to help wearers locate items below.
Wearers can “feel” what’s below, thanks to the glove’s pulsing jets of water, without having to dive down to physically touch an object.
IrukaTact uses a MaxBotix ultrasonic range-finding sonar sensor that points down from the wrist, along with three small motors and an Arduino Pro Mini microcomputer.
With motors placed on top of the index, middle and ring fingers, water is pumped from fingers to produce pressure feedback.
When the glove is in close proximity to an object underwater, greater pressure is exerted onto a finger. The sensor can receive and send sonic signals from up to two feet underwater, but the researchers hope to expand that range in the future.