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What is Haptics?

Haptics is the sense of touch mediated by technologies.

The haptics term comes from the greek “haptikos” meaning “concerning the sense of touch”. In the tech world haptics identifies all the technologies that provide the sensation of digital touch feedback, also called haptic feedback.

Haptics is a particular technology because it is bidirectional. It involves an action (interaction) and a reaction (haptic feedback). Specifically, the action is the intention of the user to interact with an haptics-enabled content. The reaction is the haptic feedback that the digital content transmits to the user.

This is one of the key aspects of haptics: interaction is almost as important as the haptic feedback. Haptics is successful when it is included in the design process of your applications.

Haptic feedback covers a wide range of possible stimulation embodiments but is broadly divided into tactile haptics technology and kinesthetic haptics technology. Tactile haptic feedback refers to sensations such as vibration, friction, or micro-deformation. Kinesthetic haptic feedback refers to sensations that provide force sensations that can stimulate both mechanical stimuli as well as stimuli related to the position and the movement of the body.

A simple diagram showcasing the Interhaptics technology stack, including compatible hardware and software.

Source: Haptics Industry Forum.

A woman demonstrating haptic sensation, through touching and feeling with her fingertips.

Tactile Haptics Technologies

Haptics technologies relying on tactile stimulation tend to transmit a mechanical stimulus to the skin of humans. These technologies are divided in:

1) Vibrational - Like the vibration in your iPhone.
2) Surface change - Like a Braille display for visually impaired people.
3) Frictional change - like Hap2u technology.

The most widespread are vibrational haptics technologies that power the beloved rumble of the PlayStation Dual Shock, each and every phone and smartphone since the Nokia 3310.

They are also the most used technology in Haptics for Extended Reality applications, and are included in all the VR controllers and most of the VR gloves available on the market today.

Vibrotactile

Vibrotactile technology is probably the most widespread kind of technology used in haptics devices for VR. Typical solutions include the rumble-like feeling of ERMs (Eccentric Rotating Mass) towards more expressive LRAs (Linear Resonant Actuators), and large bandwidth actuators like VCM (Voice Coil Motors), or PZT (Piezoelectric Actuators). Devices equipped with these actuators are able to consistently deliver vibration patterns, which are useful to enhance user experience during virtual reality scenarios. Vibration effects can be thought of as a kind of audio for the skin. In an enterprise VR application, vibration actuators are typically used for surface texture and to substitute for more expensive and complex force-feedback systems. These technologies are usually coupled with finger and hand tracking technologies for VR glove implementation.

Example of vibrotactile based devices are:

- Manus
- BeBop Sensors
- Tactus Technologies

The showcasing of Haptic technology from Vive, SensoryX, and Manus as examples of tools used in VR projects for Haptic Feedback.A close-up into HTC Vive's Haptic Technology used for Haptic Feedback in Virtual Reality projects.

Kinesthetic Haptics Technologies

These haptics technologies work by exercising a force on the user impeding a limb movement. They are not usually felt on the skin, but mainly on the muscles and tendons. The main field of applications is simulators where they serve to mimic the real behavior of a system. Their implementation is usually quite cost intensive and reserved to business applications.

There is an effort to democratize such technologies for Virtual Reality applications. Actors like Haptix and Senseglove are introducing these technologies for larger market segments.

Resistive Force Feedback

Resistive force feedback is used in haptics exoskeletons and gloves to impede the movement of the fingers in virtual reality. Resistive devices act as a kind of brake for finger or body motion. They are usually used to simulate manipulation gestures, and they are effective at enhancing the realism of the hand interactions. Resistive force feedback devices are typically based on electromechanical brakes which increase the friction of a sliding cable. The modulation of the friction allows modification of the resistive force experienced by the users. They are usually coupled with finger and hand tracking technologies.

Example of resistive force feedback devices are:

- SenseGlove
- Haptx



Active Force Feedback

Active force feedback is used in haptics exoskeleton and handheld haptics devices to apply an active force on the user’s articulations or fingers. This type of feedback is normally based on electromechanical motors actively applying a force to the user’s body part. This force simulates an interaction with a virtual object; or simulates a realistic interaction with a specialized haptics device like a haptics-enabled rifle or flight stick.

They are effective to simulate manipulation tasks and interaction with non-static virtual objects (ex: holding a beating heart), and to simulate realistic behavior of simulated interfaces.

They tend to be more fragile compared to resistive or vibrotactile devices due to a more complex mechanical implementation. They are also normally the most expensive option and the most complex to integrate into a virtual reality simulation.

Examples of active force feedback devices are:

- Dexmo
- Haption



Skin Indentation

Skin indentation devices are used to selectively compress the user’s skin to create the sensation of interacting with objects. Skin indentation devices can be used to render vibrations pattern, textures, or light forces perception, giving them a large spectrum of expressivity.

Examples of skin indentation devices are:

- Haptx
- Go Touch VR
- Weart

The role of Interhaptics

Interhaptics helps content creators, independent software vendors, original equipment manufacturers, and haptics technology providers to deliver better haptics in a shorter time.

A simple diagram showcasing the Interhaptics technology stack, including compatible hardware and software.

We leverage the power of our Interhaptics Engine to allow great haptics products to scale.

Do you have a haptics use case?

Get in touch with us here!

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