Wearables

What is a haptic feedback technology? Types, devices, and use

1st November 2022
Paige West

Simply put, haptics is a technology which allows one to receive tactile information through their sensations, by applying forces, vibrations, or touches. Haptics simulate an object or interaction from the virtual system, producing the feeling it’s real.

This article originally appeared in the Oct'22 magazine issue of Electronic Specifier Design – see ES's Magazine Archives for more featured publications.

Mobile phone vibration is very often described as an example of haptic feedback technology. But it is just one and very simple illustration of how haptics can function. Haptic allows a user to interact with computer-based devices by receiving tactile and force feedback. The former may let us know what the texture of the object is (e.g., rough, or smooth). The latter simulates some physical properties of the object, such as its weight or pressure.

Haptic feedback typology

The five main types of haptic feedback technologies (haptics) are:

1. Force

2. Vibrotactile

3. Electrotactile

4. Ultrasonic

5. Thermal

Force feedback stimulates the ligaments and muscles through our skin into the musculoskeletal system, whereas any other types of haptics affect top layers of skin receptors. Force devices are mostly large (think about a powered exoskeleton as an example). They move together with a human and have an impact on large areas of the body, such as an arm or a leg. These devices are far more complex, as they are designed to both apply the force to the body part and provide a person with sufficient freedom of movement.

Vibrotactile feedback is by far the most common type of haptics. Vibrostimulators apply pressure to the definite receptors of human skin. These receptors resemble an ‘onion’ layer structure and can accept vibrations of up to 1000 hertz.

Electrotactile stimulators affect both receptors and nerve endings by applying electrical impulses. By means of electrical impulses, a user can receive a wide range of sensations which cannot be reproduced with any other current feedback systems.

With ultrasonic tactile feedback, one or more ultrasound emitters are used to create the subtle feedback. In such appliances the emitter located on one part of the body sends a signal to another part.

For thermal feedback formation, the actuators grid is used. It is in direct contact with the skin. Most commonly, to implement this effect, the thermoelectric diodes (based on the Peltier effect) are used.

Practical applications of haptic feedback

It’s quite easy to conclude that the haptic feedback feature has a great number of applications in different practical areas, from medicine and industrial training to gaming and entertainment. Let’s have a closer look at two particular applications.

Automotive and aviation

Transportation has a lot of different points where the benefits of the haptic feedback can be used.

For example, the car may benefit from haptic feedback technology when it’s employed for conveying the diversity of information: spatial signals, warnings, communication, coded information, and other general data. To achieve the expected goals, the haptic feedback can be directly introduced into different car components like steering wheel, seat belt, pedal, seat, dashboard, or driver’s clothes.

With aircrafts, the purpose of haptic effects is mostly the same as in the previous case – provide a pilot with necessary information about the flight control, assisting in the management of the safe and economical flight regime (so-called flight envelope protection). Again, the haptic feedback actuators can be mounted on different components inside the cockpit and the controls, physically interacting with pilot’s body parts.

Computers and mobile devices

We interact with desktop computers, laptops, tablets, mobile phones, etc. on a daily basis. Incorporation of the haptic feedback in the named devices and proper implementation of the related reactions on different user’s actions leads to better UX and hence more satisfaction from device use.

Famous examples of haptic feedback in the public technology sphere are Apple products. The latest MacBooks’ trackpads and iPhones’ screens starting from 2015 incorporate the patented Taptic Engine to produce Force Touch and 3D Touch features, creating the unique user experience in respect to the system reaction to different executed actions.

Devices with haptic feedback

Teslasuit is a company developing products that enable direct communication between the human body and computer. Its products, TESLASUIT and TESLAGLOVE, form a human-to-digital interface.

TESLASUIT

TESLASUIT’s full body haptic feedback system uses electro muscle stimulation (EMS) and transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) to simulate a range of real-life feelings and sensations. Using this system, TESLASUIT can provide physical feedback based on the visual simulation that may be experienced on a flat screen or immersive reality devices (VR/AR headsets).

TESLAGLOVE

This is our brand-new glove with haptic feedback. The glove repeats the anatomic shape of the human’s hand and enables some individual size adjustment. The active force feedback technology can shift the fingers or limit their movement, depending on the virtual or augmented reality simulations.

Electronic tactile displays for each finger emulate diverse sensations, create perception of solid object texture and various surface types.

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