One of the most interesting areas of electronics research right now is into the potential applications of haptic technology.
What is haptic technology?
Anything ‘haptic’ refers to touch. As such, haptic technology encompasses technical devices or innovations that create tactile simulations.
Haptics can be used across a huge variety of products, from the vibrations when you press a button on your smartphone, to life-like human-robot interactions.
There are three main types of technology in haptics: graspable, wearable, and touchable.
One of the most ubiquitous uses of haptics is in the touchable screens of smartphones and tablets. A tactile response is when something responds to touch, so when you touch your smartphone and it vibrates in response.
A good example of the graspable category of haptics would be joysticks used in video gaming. Depending on the pressure and angle exerted on the joysticks, the game responds accordingly. The kinaesthetic feedback from devices like joysticks or game controllers can be felt in more than just our fingertips.
For slightly more serious use-cases, look no further than military bomb disposal units. By using graspable haptics systems, operators can use robots to defuse bombs without putting any people at risk.
These devices usually use pressure, friction or temperature to create a tactile experience. Haptics are used in some smart watches, which can have a tactile response when scrolling or clicking.
Companies working in haptics
There are several labs and research facilities that are making a name for themselves in haptics. A Swiss lab working for the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (EPFL) has some interesting projects underway. The University of South Carolina also has a Haptics Robotic and Virtual Interaction (HaRVI) lab. Many universities also have research centres dedicated to haptic technology, including Stanford and King’s College London.
There are some big names also researching the utilisation of haptics too. Companies like Disney are researching different ways to use haptic technology, including interactions between humans and robots and haptic jackets.
The future of haptics
There’s so much research being done into the applications of haptic technology, including some things that could be revolutionary. Among other things the University of South Carolina are working on a device called ‘Grabity’, which is trying to add the feeling of weight and gravity to graspable haptics. As you can imagine, it’s difficult to add the perception of a different weight to a graspable device. The way they do this is through the use of voice coil actuators. These electronic components convert electric signals into magnetic force, giving a feeling similar to gravity.
Several labs and companies are also working on haptic soft pneumatic actuator (SPA) skin. This invention could be used in soft robotics, which in turn could be used for an array of life-changing applications. The skin could go onto invasive surgical instruments and rehabilitation devices since it can safely interact with the human body.
Disney’s research division has several haptic projects running, including one for haptic telepresence robots. The robot uses hydraulic and pneumatic lines, combined with a remote person controlling the robot.
So close you can almost touch it
Haptics is a constantly evolving field of research with some really exciting potential developments down the line.
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