Espresso of Innovation: Getting In Touch With Haptics

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Hello and welcome to this week’s Espresso of Innovation; the hottest news and strongest stories from the world of creativity and technology filtered into a quick shot of inspiration. This week we’re getting all touchy-feely.

If you’re one of the 10+ million people that think Grand Theft Auto V is one of the most immersive video games you’ve ever played, you should talk to Disney. The company recently unveiled a system, Aireal, designed to blur the boundaries between the real and digital worlds far more than uploading a selfie to life invader or trading on the LCN ever will. Revealed at the recent SIGGRAPH conference, Aireal allows people to physically feel virtual objects in a game using mini vortexes of air. So if you’re playing a soccer game and saving a penalty, you’ll actually feel the ball hitting your hand for real. It just might be the next frontier for gaming and it highlights an expanding field of digital innovation dedicated to putting the tactile feedback we get from touching things in the real world into digital experiences: haptic technology.

Tactile feedback provides context for our interactions and without it research shows we perform tasks slower, make more errors and enjoy the experience less. The lack of tactile feedback has been an Achilles heel for digital experiences, but increasingly technology is being used to bridge the divide. Touchscreens are an obvious starting point. Companies like Finland’s Senseg are developing flat surfaces that provide the sensation of texture based on the digital image being touched. Expect to see this type of interface become the norm.

But haptics go far beyond touchscreens and gaming: augmenting real world touch with digital assistance also helps aid learning and exploration. Just a few of the recent advancements and implications are:

Child development being boosted by researchers at the University of Leeds, who are developing haptic feedback robots designed to guide children’s handwriting.Linking automotive data with a haptic device, likethis gear knob, car manufacturers can encourage safer, more fuel efficient driving.The medical world applying this sports performancehaptic armband that teaches muscles to swing a golf club like Tiger Woods to speed injury recovery.Emergency services improving rescue times with a haptic system thatremotely controls dogs. Recently unveiled “haptic tweezers” allowing researchers to actually feel microscopic structures will impact all areas of scientific research.

Evidence shows people prefer tactile interaction and feel more in control when they have it, so expect to see more haptic nudges woven into everyday life. From a marketing point of view, Durex’s now infamous “Fundawear” raised the technology’s profile but Huggie’s pregnancy-simulating belt demonstrates how powerful touch can be – both practically and emotively. A sector that could really benefit from adopting currently available third-wave haptics is retail. The combination of haptic technology and mobile connectivity can revolutionize any buying decisions for which touch is a consideration, like clothing. Recent predictions have the haptic tech market for touchscreens growing over 40% annually to$50bn+ by 2018, so working out how your digital presence actually feels might help you get ahead of the competition.