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Haptics As Feedback



Haptic technologies that create real-time feedback effects with touch rather than relying only on the sounds from a pair of headphones or images on a screen. So arcade games going all the way back to the mid-1970s have used force feedback particularly in things like driving games where your steering wheel or your handlebars would shake. After you spent another 25 cents on crashing and burning yet again theme parks later took this idea a few steps further with moving theatre rides where your seat or even the entire room would shake and vibrate to simulate an adventure through some fantastical land.

But in the mid-1990s we started to finally see consumer grade haptics like the interactor vest in 1994 an early wearable technology that plugged into your TV and converted certain frequencies of audio into vibrations that you could feel in your chest. With the idea being to make sounds like explosions more realistic and immersive. What you were really doing was strapping a glorified subwoofer to your body but progress is progress three years later in 1997 Nintendo released the rumble pack for its Nintendo 64 controller, adding an extra bit of punch to now famous titles like Star Fox and Super Smash Brothers. And while the gentle rumbling of the pack in your hand wouldn't truly make you feel like you were in the cockpit of an x-wing, having just gotten blasted. It was a nice additional feature that enhanced the gaming experience enough, that this sort of force feedback is now a standard feature in many modern controllers.

Today though there's far more in the works than just making your game pad shake a bit, modern haptic technologies typically take the form of physical actuators that can vibrate in precise ways to mimic textures or provide more precise feedback than earlier solutions. The recently released steam controller features track pads that simulate a wide variety of in-game effects such as recoil from a gun and can also fool your fingers into thinking they're using a clicky mouse wheel or a trackball. Although the actual surface itself is smooth and apple's tactic engine is capable of making your laptop touchpad emulate bumpy or pitted surfaces and downward clicks in addition to the usual force feedback. So other types of controllers and input devices we may see in the future could offer so much more even things like resistance effects like the PS5 controllers now where picking up a heavy object in-game can feel heavier to your fingers and we're also starting to explore how haptics can be used to put more reality in virtual reality, especially when it comes to haptic devices that can be paired with VR headsets. Several kinds of prototype haptic gloves have been developed using physical actuators in individual fingers or even selectively inflatable air pockets to give users the sense of touching and moving around a virtual world but does this stuff have any application beyond gaming and showing off my expensive Apple toys to my friends?

Well of course it does, designers that work with 3d models will benefit from haptics in a huge way as they'll be able to use haptic gloves to feel an object modelled on-screen or perhaps as an augmented reality hologram right in front of them before it's manufactured. And for folks that have been afflicted by blindness haptics may offer a window to the world through devices like tacet which provides force feedback to let patients know what's around them, using sonar and speaking of medical applications engineers are also looking at way to provide tactile feedback to physicians that need to perform surgery on faraway patients using a robot arm and remote controller that can mimic the feeling of the patient's body part allowing for much greater precision in situations where a supervising surgeon can't physically be in the operating room.