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This article is about haptic technology. For the study of touching behaviour in humans, see Haptics. For the biology of sensory receptors, see Somatosensory system.

Haptic, from the Greek αφή (Haphe), means pertaining to the sense of touch (or possibly from the Greek word haptesthai meaning “contact” or “touch”).

Haptic technology refers to technology which interfaces the user via the sense of touch by applying forces, vibrations and/or motions to the user. This mechanical stimulation is used to create haptic virtual objects. Watch an animated demo of these basic haptic technology concepts here. This emerging technology promises to have wide reaching applications. Although haptic devices are capable of measuring bulk or reactive forces that are applied by the user it should not to be confused with touch or tactile sensors that measure the pressure or force exerted by the user to the interface.


One of the earliest forms of haptic devices is used in large modern aircraft that use servo systems to operate control systems. Such systems tend to be "one-way" in that forces applied aerodynamically to the control surfaces are not perceived at the controls, with the missing normal forces simulated with springs and weights. In earlier, lighter aircraft without servo systems, as the aircraft approached a stall the aerodynamic buffeting was felt in the pilot's controls, a useful warning to the pilot of a dangerous flight condition. This control shake is not felt when servo control systems are used. To replace this missing clue, the angle of attack is measured, and when it approaches the critical stall point a "stick shaker" (an unbalanced rotating mass) is engaged, simulating the effects of a simpler control system. This is known as haptic feedback or force feedback.

Teleoperators and simulatorsEdit

Teleoperators are remote controlled robotic tools, and when contact forces are reproduced to the operator, it is called "haptic teleoperation". The first electrically actuated teleoperators were built in the 1950's at the Argonne National Lab, USA, by Dr. Raymond C. Goertz, to remotely handle radioactive substances. Since then, the use of "force feedback" has become more widespread in all kinds of teleoperators such as underwater exploration devices controlled from a remote location.

When such devices are simulated using a computer (as they are in operator training devices) it is useful to provide the force feedback that would be felt in actual operations. Since the objects being manipulated do not exist in a physical sense, the forces are generated using haptic (force generating) operator controls. Data representing touch sensations may be saved or played back using such haptic technologies.

Haptic simulators are currently used in medical simulators and flight simulators for pilot training (2004).


Some low-end haptic devices are already common. Some joysticks and game controllers provide haptic feedback. The simplest form is the Rumble Pak, which is simply an attachment which vibrates upon command from the software. This is often incorrectly referred to as force feedback. True force feedback involves the feedback of a resisting force to the user. This feature is available in some simulated automobile steering wheels which provide the road "feel" for race car simulations. The ability to change the temperature of a controlling device could also be used. However, the technology may be cost prohibitive in terms of how much power it would need to operate properly.

Novint Technologies recently announced their development of a high-fidelity consumer haptic (3D touch) controller which they plan to introduce in the video game market in 2007. The device, which is called the Novint Falcon, lets users feel weight, shape, texture, dimension, and force effects when playing touch-enabled games. The device, which is designed to retail for under $250 in mass market quantities, performs comparably to commercial devices that cost thousands of dollars, making the technology practical for consumer applications for the first time.


The Novint Falcon and user

Users hold the interchangeable handle, or end effector of the Novint Falcon as shown in this image.

Haptics in virtual realityEdit

Haptics is gaining widespread acceptance as a key part of Virtual Reality systems, adding the sense of touch to previously visual-only solutions such as 'The Wedge' and more recently in laptop-based VR solutions such as the '3D-Mobile Immersive Workstation'. Most of these solutions use stylus-based haptic rendering, where the user interfaces to the virtual world via a tool or stylus, giving a form of interaction that is computationally realistic on today's hardware


Some research has been done into simulating the different kinds of tactition by means of high-speed vibrations or other stimuli. One device of this type uses a pad array of pins, where the pins vibrate to simulate a surface being touched. While this does not have a realistic feel, it does provide useful feedback, allowing discrimination between various shapes, textures, and resiliencies.


Various haptic interfaces for medical simulation may prove especially useful for training of minimally invasive procedures (laparoscopy/interventional radiology) and remote surgery using teleoperators. In the future, expert surgeons may work from a central workstation, performing operations in various locations, with machine setup and patient preparation performed by local nursing staff. Rather than traveling to an operating room, the surgeon instead becomes a telepresence. A particular advantage of this type of work is that the surgeon can perform many more operations of a similar type, and with less fatigue. It is well documented that a surgeon who performs more procedures of a given kind will have statistically better outcomes for his patients.

In ophthalmology, "haptic" refers to a supporting spring, two of which hold an artificial lens within the lens capsule (after surgical removal of cataracts).

A 'Virtual Haptic Back' (VHB) is being successfully integrated in the curriculum of students at the Ohio University College of Osteopathic Medicine. Research indicates that VHB is a significant teaching aid in palpatory diagnosis (detection of medical problems via touch). The VHB simulates the contour and compliance (reciprocal of stiffness) properties of human backs, which are palpated with two haptic interfaces (SensAble Technologies, PHANToM 3.0). This research is being conducted at the 'Interdisciplinary Institute for Neuromusculoskeletal Research (IINR)'


The use of haptic devices in entertainment appeared in the 1932 futurist fiction book Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. The author described a future entertainment theater where the arm rests of the seats had positions for the hands to rest that gave haptic stimulation. Rather than "the movies" these theaters and shows were called "the feelies". The programs exhibited were of an erotic nature. Haptic devices, including self-propelled haptics, feature prominently in Vernor Vinge's 2006 novel Rainbows End.

Remote sexual relationsEdit

One envisioned use of haptics is for "teledildonics". Recent developments such as the 'CyberGlove' indicate that this may be plausible and not just an interesting idea. Some sex toys are now available which can be computer controlled; normally this comes in the form of an online movie or Web site which sends commands to the toy at scripted moments.


The Shadow Dextrous Robot Hand uses the sense of touch, pressure, and position to reproduce the human grip in all its strength, delicacy, and complexity. The SDRH was first developed by Richard Greenhill and his team of engineers in Islington, London, as part of The Shadow Project, (now known as the Shadow Robot Company) an ongoing research and development program whose goal is to complete the first convincing humanoid. An early prototype can be seen in NASA's collection of humanoid robots, or robonauts ( The Dextrous Hand has haptic sensors embedded in every joint and in every finger pad which relay information to a central computer for processing and analysis. Carnegie Mellon University in Pennsylvania and Bielefeld University in Germany in particular have found The Dextrous Hand is an invaluable tool in progressing our understanding of haptic awareness and are currently involved (2006) in research with wide ranging implications.


Touching is not limited to a feeling, but it allows interactivity in real-time with virtual objects. Thus haptics are commonly used in virtual arts, such as sound synthesis or graphic design/animation. The haptic device allows the artist to have direct contact with a virtual instrument which is able to produce real-time sound or images. We can quote the physical modelling synthesis which is an efficient modelling theory to implement cross-play interaction between sound, image, and physical objects. For instance, the simulation of a violin string produces real-time vibrations of this string under the pressure and expressivity of the bow (haptic device) held by the artist.


  • Monkman. G.J. ‑ An Electrorheological Tactile Display ‑ Presence (Journal of Teleoperators and Virtual Environments) ‑ Vol. 1, issue 2, pp. 219-228, MIT Press, July 1992.
  • Klein. D, D. Rensink, H. Freimuth, G.J. Monkman, S. Egersdörfer, H. Böse & M. Baumann - Modelling the Response of a Tactile Array using an Electrorheological Fluids - Journal of Physics D: Applied Physics, vol 37, no. 5, pp794-803, 2004
  • Klein. D, H. Freimuth, G.J. Monkman, S. Egersdörfer, A. Meier, H. Böse M. Baumann, H. Ermert & O.T. Bruhns - Electrorheological Tactile Elements - Mechatronics - Vol 15, No 7, pp883-897 - Pergamon, September 2005.

See alsoEdit

Look up haptic in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.

External linksEdit

Haptics communitiesEdit

Open source and other software Edit


  • Immersion Corp.Immersion develops touch feedback technologies that engage the sense of touch in the digital world for communicating, driving, designing, training, or just for fun
  • Force Dimension Provider of high-end haptic devices and solutions for medical, industrial and research applications
  • Handshake VR Inc. provider of a haptic and telehaptic development toolkit to empower application developers with little or no haptic experience
  • Novint Technologies, Inc. develops, markets, and licenses haptic technology for commercial and consumer applications
  • Quanser Inc. manufacturer of high-transparency and robust Haptic systems for education, research, and industrial integration. All of Quanser’s Haptic systems are open-architecture and are currently implemented in the heavy equipment, medical, robotic, and didactic industries.
  • Haption. Haption provides haptic devices and software solutions for Virtual Reality.
  • SensAble Technologies, Inc. provider of 3D touch-enabled digital solutions for commercial software development, academic and commercial research, product design, and digital content creation.
  • Reachin Technologies AB provider of high-fidelity 2D and 3D touch-enabled solutions for software development within manufacturing, design, R&D, meditech and entertainment.
  • SenseGraphics provides display systems for integrated haptics and graphics. Develops the X3D based open source API, H3D API, used for development of haptic applications. Also provides consulting for development of haptic applications.
  • Ergos-Technologies develops n-DOF modular haptic devices for multisensory real-time interaction. Ergos also provides consulting and physical modelling synthesis software for high-bandwidth-loop haptic/sound/image simulations.
  •  Butterfly Haptics, LLC High performance 6-DOF haptic interaction systems based on Lorentz levitation.
  • MPB Technologies Inc. manufactures the Freedom 6S force-feedback hand controller. It features high-accuracy 16-bit sensors, and is capable of rendering precision forces and torques in 6 degrees of freedom.

Haptics research and mediaEdit

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