23 September 2021

Haptic Technology: The Future of Engagement?

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We might not need to worry about losing the human touch after all. Haptic technology offers a more connected user experience, which could be key for companies in the future.

This tactile feedback technology has been around for decades, from old video game controllers to the vibration you feel on your phones. But as haptic technology advances, it’s fast becoming a powerful tool for consumer engagement.

Read on as we explore the advantages, types, and use cases of haptic technology, showing how this innovation can impact your business objectives and growth.

What is Haptic Technology?

Haptic technology is the use of tactile sensations to stimulate the sense of touch in a user experience. For example, direct applications of haptic solutions frequently include phone and game controller vibrations. Haptic science also involves any tactile feedback such as air pressure or sound waves. 

Also known as 3D touch or kinaesthetic communication, this technology creates experiences using vibrations, motions, and other forces. Since touch is the most fundamental method of interaction, leveraging sensation within your products is fast becoming the newest approach for creating memorable brand experiences.   

It is helpful to distinguish between haptic technology and two similar terms—haptics and haptic feedback.  

  • Haptic technology refers to the technical applications (virtual or physical) that create tactile stimulations.
  • Haptic feedback comprises the methods in which haptic technology communicates tactile information to users. 
  • Haptics is the overarching umbrella term that describes the science of haptic feedback and haptic technology, in addition to neuroscience and physiology of touch.

Haptic Modalities and Applications

Immersion Corporation is a pioneer in haptic technology that powers over 3 billion devices worldwide. One study on haptics demonstrated that participants could recall objects purely through touch 94% of the time

As the global user base grows, haptics will continue to expand across multiple applications. 

Let’s take a look at the four primary haptic modalities—vibration, button stimulation, thermal, and kinesthetic.

Vibration

Most haptic experiences focus on vibration-centric feedback. Technology such as linear resonant actuators (LRA) and eccentric rotating mass (ERM) create much of the haptic experiences you encounter for mobile and wearable devices (think of the vibration included with a game controller). 

Button stimulation

Smart screens don’t naturally offer tactical feedback and versatility like mechanical buttons. And so, we can expect simulated buttons to become more popular, like the technology in the Apple Force Touch trackpad. Buttons can use haptic and audio feedback to mimic the feeling of a mechanical pressure pad under your finger. 

Thermal

Thermoelectric effects can create temperature-based haptic experiences. By manipulating the flow of electric currents between alternating conductors on a device (one hot and one cold), your users can experience different perceived temperatures.

Kinesthetic

Haptic feedback devices mount on your customer's body and create the sensation of mass, movement, and shape. Technology such as the Dexmo haptic glove is an example of the potential growth available in the kinesthetic modality.

Types of Haptic Systems

There are three primary haptic systems now in use across several industries: graspable, touchable, and wearable. 

Graspable

Graspable devices, like joysticks, create kinesthetic feedback that informs our nerves, tendons, muscles, and joints.

For example, human-controlled robotic operations utilize graspable haptics systems. Tactical movement, vibration, and resistance allow users to operate robots remotely and in virtual environments.

The military uses graspable haptic systems for bomb disposal situations, while astronauts use the same technology in robotics to repair external spacecraft equipment or satellites without leaving the vessel.

Touchable

Touchable haptic technology is widely used by consumers, whether they are aware of it or not. For example, smartphone screens use haptic technology, responding to user movements, like taps or rotations.

An emerging field within touchable haptic technology is haptography and the mimicry of object textures and movements. TanvasTouch® creates programmable textures that enable people to feel clothing materials like wool and silk before buying items.

Wearable

Wearable haptic systems produce contact sensation by relying on tactile stimuli, such as pressure, temperature, or vibration, which is controlled by the nerves of the user’s skin.

Virtual Reality (VR) products are the most recognizable form of wearable haptic technology. VR gloves can mimic real-world impressions and receive input from the user who controls their virtual avatar, providing endless consumer engagement options for VR and AR companies. 

Uses of Haptic Technology

Haptic technology offers numerous potential advantages. Here are several use cases for touch-based solutions that can tap into the benefits of haptics to offer a better user experience.

Product design

Through touch optimization, haptic technology can improve the user experience in many ways. 

Haptics will also play a prominent role in automotive infotainment systems. Touch screens can become more responsive and provide multiple settings based on the driver's preference. Other additional automotive applications include pedal feedback and steering wheel enhancement.

Wellness

The advances in wearable haptics offer great opportunities within the healthtech industry. Real-time haptics gathers biometric data and can adjust the user experience to suit the user.

Better feedback and data collection will make it possible for enhanced user experiences and improved health outcomes. TouchPoints reports that its wearable devices can reduce stress by 74% in 30 seconds. 

Companies involved with posture correction, such as ergonomic furniture makers, app creators, or chiropractors, can take advantage of these improvements in the technology.

Industrial training

With haptic feedback, your training environments can simulate real work environments and labor conditions with improved accuracy. Users can partake in virtual training scenarios, using haptics to get a lifelike experience in a safe, offline environment. 

From training in maintenance, safety procedures, assembly line usage, and machinery operation and product testing, there are many uses for haptics that can allow users to train without any risks to themselves or company property.

Accessibility 

You can improve the accessibility of your products and services for the visually disabled. Haptic technology allows users to create virtual objects, interact with products, and approximate the appearance of an object via touch-based sensory input. For example, the 2.5D display from a Stanford team helps visually impaired people accomplish visual tasks.

Not only will these solutions open up new potential markets and aid those with restricted accessibility, but they will ensure your company stays compliant with access regulations.

Rehabilitation

Rehabilitation driven by haptics will change the speed and effectiveness of rehab programs. SenseGlove, a Dutch startup, has already created a glove that aids virtual recovery programs using VR simulations and haptic training.

For example, someone suffering from nerve damage can practice daily actions in a safe digital environment, such as pouring a cup of hot coffee or cutting a steak for dinner.

Immersive VR

Immersive VR is still in its infancy, but as haptic technology evolves, opportunities for enhanced realistic digital experiences will increase. 

Video game studios, corporate training, and medical procedures are just a few of the applications that immersive VR can apply to, adding value to customers and employees alike.

Remote tasks

With an internet connection, a robot, and a haptic controller, remote tasks will become easier and far less error-prone. 
Industries with shortages of highly skilled specialists can connect through a virtual haptic environment, allowing experts to manipulate a robot from anywhere in the world.

The Future of Haptic Technology

While haptic technology has been around for decades, the past few years have seen tremendous growth in the sector. The global haptic technology market is estimated to grow at a compounded growth rate of 12% by 2026

It’s no longer a video game gimmick. As new advancements and applications become widely available, businesses should explore ways to implement this technology in their operations, marketing, and consumer experiences. 

When you embrace this innovative technology, you can offer users an enhanced experience that makes them feel more connected to your products and brand. 

Ready to explore haptic technology? Join MassChallenge to find innovative partners and new talent to tap into the potential of this growing trend.


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