Follow This Blog
What's Happening With Haptics?
Have you heard of haptic technology? Haptics is a fancy word for tactile feedback – a technology that takes advantage of our sense of touch by applying motion or vibration to help enhance an experience.
Just like HD or the new 3D glasses enhances how and what we see and that data is delivered to our brain for processing, haptics does the same for touch. A haptic device provides physical information that is delivered to our brain to help us “see” or experience something in more depth.
It is just one of the increasing ways humans and computers are growing closer – beyond just simple word processing and number crunching. As the 21st century progresses, the exchange of information between our brains and computers is becoming closer and more complex and through haptics it can physically manifest itself to aid and improve our lifestyle.
Haptics have been able to develop over the years as computer technology has become more advanced and computer chips and sensors have gotten small enough to be incorporated into every day objects. These every day objects then become much more powerful tools.
Here are six examples of haptic technology – some you might have already have even experienced – others are still being developed for the future.
Vibrating Movie Seats
We all know how we can lose ourselves in a movie – especially when the action is intense. We are on the edge of our seats. Now imagine that seat pulsing if there has been a gunshot, or thumping in time with a character’s heartbeat! Talk about a realistic experience. Red Seat Entertainment is creating a seat that vibrates or “acts” in synch with what’s onscreen, and though they’re much more complex on the inside, to us they won’t look or feel that much different. That is until the entertainment starts!
Shoes for the Vision Impaired
Imagine a time when those who are vision impaired could move down city streets without the need of their cane or a guide dog? An inventor in India has come up with the idea of a haptic shoe tied to a smartphone app that could do just that. A person enters their destination into the smartphone app and Google Maps provides the route. This information is fed to the haptic shoes which have sensor located throughout. Various vibrations or pulse combinations indicates what direction to turn or how far to go and sensors in the front of the show provide proximity information to help with avoiding unforeseen obstacles. The shoes could provide a new freedom to the blind.
AT&T is working on a prototype steering wheel that interprets GPS instructions through a series of vibrations. The team at the lab has been trying to tackle the problem of distracted drivers – those who might be trying to read directions or listen to them on their GPS devices. The physical information relayed to the driver through clockwise or counter-clockwise vibrations in the steering when provide a literal confirmation of which direction to turn. When studied, it was shown that younger drivers kept their eyes on the road longer when they had the benefit of the haptic steering wheel. And, the longer one’s eyes are on the road, the safer we all are.
Soliders’ Smart Belts
Soldiers on the battlefield at night are incredibly vulnerable. Finding one’s way around is tough and handheld GPS systems can be cumbersome and take some time to work with. The Army Research Office is tackling this problem by incorporating haptic GPS instruction in soldiers’ belts. There are eight sensors located at 45 degree angles around the belt that buzzes and prods the solider in the right direction quickly and efficiently. The belt can be wirelessly linked to a gesture glove that can interpret other commands, and can also be controlled by someone at a remote location. Improving communication and safety on the battlefield is a great application for haptics.
The ExoHand is a prototype robot glove containing eight double acting pneumatic actuators that rest over your finger joints. It is coupled with a robotic sleeve that is worn on your arm so that any movement your arm makes is translated through the exoskeleton. The distinguishing feature of this robotic glove is the incredible level of sensitivity it has thanks to the haptics built in. The wearer of the glove gets feedback from the sensors inside as to the level of pressure they are exerting when grabbing and picking something up. The sensors push back on the users hand to help them interpret how hard they are grasping something so they don’t crush it. The ExoHand could help perform dangerous lab experiments without exposing human hands, or even help those who are rehabilitating from strokes relearn how to feel.
Phone maker Nokia has filed for a patent to create vibrating tattoos that would communicate with a wearers’ cell phone. A demagnetized ink would be imprinted on your skin and then re-magnetized; it’s the re-magnetized ink that would then be sensitive to signals sent out from your phone. In other words, your skin would vibrate if you got a call. Though the concept hasn’t been fully planned out, it could mean you would receive silent but clear vibrations of an incoming call when you are in a meeting – and perhaps you could have a different vibrating pattern for each caller. There are still many unanswered questions with this application such as how long do the tattoos last, and how do you turn it off at night? Those little things won’t stop the research though!
So we’ve seen haptic technology from the everyday, entertaining use to the futuristic concepts of exoskeletons and vibrating tattoos. Who knows which applications will expand beyond prototypes – and perhaps more importantly, which ones we would be comfortable with?
One thing is for sure. The connection between human and machine is growing ever closer and ever more imaginative! The pursuit of the technology is likely to continue to grow and just maybe there will be a day when exoskeletons won’t seem like a crazy idea!
Discovery Retreats and logo are trademarks of Discovery Communications, LLC, used under license. All rights reserved.