Prepare to be blown away with this post!  Here at the Hub one of the things that we are all about is the coming merger of the physical world with the virtual world.  Programmable matter, moving beyond the outdated mouse and keyboard interface model, immersive environments, and so on.  Now we are here to tell you about a seriously game changing technology that is absolutely busting apart the traditional barrier between the physical and virtual worlds.  Its called haptics, and if you haven’t heard about it yet then read on and prepare to be thrilled.

Dramatic opening paragraph, I know, but I am just so excited about the possibilities of haptics that it is hard for me to hold back.  Haptics is the set of technologies that causes a person operating a device to engage in a sensory feedback loop between what the device is feeling and seeing and what the person is feeling and seeing.  Sound confusing?  Keep reading, it will make sense!

Today most graphics designers draw things on a computer the old fashioned way using the mouse and keyboard to interface with their design software.  Haptics changes all of this.  Imagine instead of a mouse that you have a wand or joystick that can serve as your paintbrush, eraser, scalpel, etc as you design an object on the computer.  As you push down on the virtual object you are designing on the computer with your joystick you can actually feel pressure push back on you from the joystick.  Its a completely different way of graphics design that will rewrite the rules of the game.  Speaking of games, haptics also has the potential to revolutionize the gaming industry. Check out this video to see what I am talking about:

After watching the video hopefully you agree that this is some pretty cool stuff!  To fully grasp the potential of this disruptive technology, you have to keep in mind that the haptic device you are controlling does not have to be in the same physical location as the object, game, or target you are manipulating.

Imagine a surgeon performing surgery on a patient half way across the world using a haptic device.  The surgeon would be able to feel, see, and even smell the organs and tissue of the remote patient with a sensitivity and realness that is indistinguishable from physically being there.  Of course the technology still has a ways to go to get to that point, but not as much as you might think.  Remember our coverage of the da vinci surgical robot?  This robot is currently taking the practice of surgery by storm as it allows surgeons to operate a suite of scalpels, cameras, pincers, and other devices to perform surgery with a level of precision and agility that exceeds natural, unaided human ability.  Several efforts are underway to augment the Da Vinci robot with haptic capabilities. And as you will see in a video at the end of this post, haptic based remote surgery has already been achieved several years ago. Yikes!

Graphics design and gaming seem to be the first killer apps that will be amenable to haptic enhancement.  The gaming industry in particular has the financial incentive and the platform to make this happen soon.  As seen in the video above, products are already on the market for the gaming industry and the real problem is not the technology, but rather the integration of device and game.  Once the gaming industry can work with the haptic device industry to create an open standard that will allow any haptic device to interface seemlessly with any game we might see an explosion in haptically enabled gaming.

Aside from the Falcon device from Novint, there are some other serious players in this field.  Two others you should check out if you want to learn more are Sensable with their Phantom line of products and Quanser with their large suite of products.  Here is an illustrative (hah!) example of the Quanser device in action:

The potential for haptics is just out of control. We’ll be keeping an eye on this emerging field continually here at the Hub, so stay tuned for updates in the future. In the meantime, haptics is a technology that lends itself very well to video demonstrations.

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