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Haptics touch technology

Technical Q&A with Heather Culbertson from the Haptics Group at the University of Pennsylvania

DA: What is haptics and what relevance does it have to our lives?

Haptics is the science of understanding the sense of touch and augmenting a person's touch interactions with the physical world. The importance of the sense of touch to a person's daily life is often overlooked.

For example, try picking something up after your hand has fallen asleep. It's very difficult to do since you can't feel the shape of the object or determine if you are applying enough force to keep the object from slipping. Now try picking up the same object without looking. Even without sight you can use your sense of touch to help you adjust your hand until you have a stable grip on the object.

People are increasingly interacting with the world through technology such as a computer, smartphone, or tablet. But the only physical interactions that people have is with the keyboard or mouse, not with anything on the screen. Wouldn't it be great if we could add some touch sensations back to computing?

In the future, haptics could be applied to letting you feel a hug or a handshake from the person with whom you are video chatting. Or you could feel the tactile qualities of fabrics or clothing before you buy them online.

Haptics has been becoming more mainstream though. Many devices that people use everyday already use haptics. For example, the vibration in your phone or rumble packs in game controllers provide haptic cues to indicate that something has happened. But these haptic interactions do not feel realistic and leave a lot to be desired.

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