🗣 Used correctly, haptic feedback can be an excellent way to make people collaborate in a shared space to feel like they’re actually there, in the environment.
It can also be a fantastic way for people to work together on shared projects because it allows for extra context to the situation at hand. For instance, a surgeon remotely assisting another surgeon can feel the structure of a bone or muscle. While not every XR collaborative experience will necessarily demand the addition of haptic feedback, there are countless environments where this technology could be beneficial.
So, let’s review some of the basics!
What Is Haptic Feedback Technology?
🗣 Haptic feedback is the process of communicating with users through the sensory experience of touch, vibrations, motions, or the perceived application of force and pressure. It recreates the way we interact with the world around us.
For instance, when we press a button on a keyboard, the key vibrates and applies a mild pressure on our fingertips to let us know that we have pressed the correct spot. The sensory experience of pushing a heavy object is different from that of pushing a light object, not only due to the force it requires but also because of the difference in force feedback from the action.
Without haptics, there would be no way to distinguish one-touch experience from another, diminishing the ability to navigate the world. TmIt complements hand controllers, eye tracking systems, and voice commands, with an interactive system that actively recognizes and validates our inputs.
Why does haptic feedback matter?
Human beings have five senses, but electronic devices communicate with us using predominantly just two: sight and hearing. Haptic feedback (often shortened to just haptics) changes this by simulating the sense of touch. Not only can you touch a computer or other device, but the computer can touch you back.
Haptic feedback is a mode of communication rather than a specific technology or application. It’s nothing less than an entirely new way for machines and humans to communicate.
What does it feel like?
🗣 In theory, haptic feedback can feel like anything. However, in practice, the sensations available are limited, particularly in consumer devices. Different sorts of vibrations usually felt with your hands, are the most common form of haptic feedback today.
The tactile sensations most people think of when they say “touch” are part of what is known as the somatosensory system. This encompasses a huge variety of sensations, not just sensations such as vibration or pressure, but also things such as pain, temperature, and the position and movement of your body in space.
Simulating the somatosensory system in its entirety is a huge challenge (according to Microsoft, “many orders of magnitude larger in complexity” than sight or sound). There are also some sensations – such as pain – you probably don’t want users to experience.
In practice, haptic feedback always targets a specific subset of your somatosensory system. A large number of haptic devices (from game controllers to mobile phones to our own “virtual touch” haptics) communicate solely via the receptors on your hands, for example.
But even very limited use of haptic feedback can be very effective, as the widespread use of relatively simple vibrations in mobile phones shows.
How does it work?
🗣 Haptics is a family of technologies rather than any single technology. Although every haptic technology communicates via your sense of touch, they achieve this in different ways.
Some of the most common haptic technologies are:
👉 Vibrotactile haptics: The tiny motors that create vibrations and other tactile effects in mobile phones, games and VR controllers (such as those in the Playstation 5 and Nintendo Switch).
👉 Ultrasonic mid-air haptics: Algorithms control ultrasound waves so that the combined pressure of the waves interacting produces a force that can be felt on the user’s hands. The “virtual touch” haptic technology means that the user does not even need to be in contact with a physical surface.
👉 Microfluidics: Air or liquid is pushed into tiny chambers within a smart textile or another device, creating pockets of pressure or temperature on a user’s skin.
👉 Force control: Levers or other large-scale (and expensive!) mechanical devices are used to exert force on the hands, limbs, or full body of a user.
👉 Surface haptics: Modulates friction between a user’s finger and a touchscreen to create tactile effects.
🗣 Haptic feedback is found in everything from mobile phones to high-end aircraft simulation systems, from automotive infotainment to accessibility, from VR gaming to design workflows, and from marketing to museums.
In 2018, “haptics” officially entered the Merriam-Webster dictionary, and the haptics industry is projected to be worth over $19 billion by 2025.
In automotive, haptic feedback allows manufacturers to create non-visual modes of interaction, reducing the number of time drivers take their eyes off the road.
However, in marketing then it’s the emotional component of touch that is important: adding haptic feedback is proven to have a significant impact on customer engagement.
When added to user interfaces, haptics is all about reducing task completion time and improving accuracy. Multisensory experiences that incorporate haptics are increasingly recognized as central to natural interaction and the next generation of UX design.
The role of haptic feedback in VR and spatial computing is largely about increasing users’ sense of presence. This isn’t simply about making virtual bubbles feel like real bubbles popping on your hands. Haptic feedback allows storytellers to create experiences that we can’t have in the real world: to feel a dragon’s breath, touch a ghost, or cast a magic spell.
Examples of Haptic Feedback in Use
🗣 There are many examples of the use of haptic feedback in both immersive and non-immersive technologies:
👉 Haptics Haptic TactSuit
TactSuit is a full-body suit comprising a vest with embedded haptic feedback points. It has over 40 haptic points placed in strategic positions to provide users with constant feedback as they navigate VR worlds. For instance, in VR gameplay, it will allow users to accurately estimate their position in relation to other objects.
👉 Apple’s Taptic Engine
Apple introduced a haptic engine called Taptic, which would provide the company’s device users with haptic feedback. The Apple watch used this technology to offer a functional input-output mechanism within the device’s limited real estate. All Apple devices with 3D touch use this engine.
👉 Razer Nari Ultimate Haptic Headset
Razer’s premium wireless gaming headset uses haptics to power a feature called HyperSense. It recognizes the shape and frequencies of game audio and transforms them into haptic vibrations, just like in the real world. Users can detect the direction, force, and other dimensions of sound to increase in-game awareness.
👉 Meta’s haptic wrist controllers
Meta Platforms Inc is developing haptics technologies of its own with two prototypes in the works, Bellowband and Tasbi, which will allow users to make complex gestures with their wrists and receive feedback through air pressure. Another project, called ReSkin, aims to recreate realistic feedback using haptic gloves as users interact with virtual objects with Meta’s low-cost, open-source technology platform.
👀 What are your thoughts? Have you heard about this before? Let us know 👇