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
Haptics can be used across a huge variety of products, from
the vibrations when you press a button on your smartphone, to life-like
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
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
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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