Virtual and mixed reality technology has made a significant impact in giving businesses the ability to replicate real-world situations in a safe environment. The latest technologies have significantly enhanced training and learning. The next stage of development is to replicate the feel of objects in the virtual world using haptic tactile feedback technology. Haptics aims to heighten the sense of touch using a variety of mechanisms.
Feedback systems simulate the sense of touch through motion, force and vibration to convey sensory information to and from the user. The new technology has a number of uses including the possibility to play music, experience gravity in a video game or feel fabric textures while shopping online. Haptics has the potential to change the way people experience content and interact with on-screen interfaces. The key benefits are enhanced accuracy, superior user-satisfaction and faster response times. Because users get sensational feedback in real-time they input data commands quicker.
How does haptic technology work?
Haptic technology can be integrated into any interactive device. It is most commonly found in touchscreen devices with a feedback mechanism but is also used in gamepads and data gloves that track hand motion. High-end technologies include haptic suits used with VR simulators in which users will feel the force, of say, an explosion or gunshot wound. Errr, no thanks.
Devices use electric actuators, pneumatics and hydraulics that apply force to send feedback signals. Information is sent to users with the appropriate pressure or resistance based on the object they are touching and the force in which they are touching it. For example, in the healthcare sector, a trainee surgeon can benefit from haptics by learning how much pressure they need to apply, or how deep they need to go with incisors to reach their target.
Other uses for haptic technology in the healthcare sector include arthroscopic surgery, temporal bone drilling, conducting examinations such as understanding the feel of tissues and visualising the interaction of Nano-scale materials. In clinical settings, sensor and robotic devices can be used to detect light, temperature, vibration, magnetism and chemicals. Computer-aided programs enable doctors to diagnose and treat patients earlier and more effectively because the sensors provide instant feedback.
How to Create Haptic Content
Haptic feedback technology is an iteration of virtual reality technology but does not necessarily have to be used with VR. Haptics can be used in an app, for example, and used experienced via a smartphone. Creating content that features haptic feedback involves creating a 3D graphic that runs through computer software and viewed through VR goggles. Information is then fed via a two-way communication system between the software and sensors attached to the user.
The sensors may be as simple as monitors attached to part of the body or haptic-enabled accessories such as gloves, suits or robotic arms. To communicate information from the device, we apply an extracting technique which entails image processing procedures to define trajectories, pressure and other dynamics of objects and people. This data provides feedback to users and gives them a perceived sensation. The main purpose of haptic feedback technology is essentially to learn by feeling. However, educational programs should also be fun and enjoyable to use.
Whether you’re creating content for training purposes or to educate patients/customers, the content has to be engaging and motivational. An effective method is to design a program which replicates a gaming environment. If necessary, you can also include elements of gamification. The content should also provide the user with a full complement of possible scenarios. Educators can then create custom scenarios by selecting the option from a menu. End-users then perform the task they have been set within the virtual environment. The program responds by giving users varying degrees of sensations as feedback.
How Haptics can Support People with Disabilities
Haptic wearables have the potential to replace the sensory impairments of people with disabilities. This includes a wide spectrum of injuries including limb loss, blindness, strokes and rehabilitation processes that aim to rebuild sensation in muscles. Goals can be achieved through haptic wearables or devices with an interactive interface such as smartphones and tablets. For example, a user that is housebound or has limited accessibility to outdoor adventures could experience the sensation of paddling in the ocean.
Some of the latest developments include fitting haptic technologies to limb prosthetics and using software that provides feedback to help rehabilitate affected limbs. Haptics can help people restore walking balance, enhance hearing or play a musical instrument. The possibilities are endless. With the development of haptic technologies, virtual reality goes a step closer to delivering real-life experiences which makes the user feel as though they experienced the event for real. Imagine being able to experience anything in the world without any risk, effort or expense.
Want to read more about how Sliced Bread Animation is developing tools and content for haptic feedback? Check out this blog post about our haptic project for Innovate UK.