Until recently, the near-future of virtual reality seemed to be stuck with offering a fantastic experience featuring just sight and sound. It was almost as if that may be the foreseeable limit for how each of us would interact with VR. But advances in haptic technology are moving at a pace and will very soon add a whole new dimension to how machines and robots under our control interact with the world.

Indeed, it was only last year that Steven Spielberg’s movie Ready Player One introduced the concept of haptics to the masses. In the film, players wear special gloves and bodysuits which allow them to actually feel the imaginary objects in their hands and sense an imaginary blow or touch.

Haptic technology: mimicking natural interactions and materials

Haptic information has a powerful influence on how our bodies and brains react to the world around us. Nerves continuously feed our brains with information on things we’re holding, the environment in which we’re in, and allow us to sense how other people are interacting with us, for example through a hug, kiss or caress.

We’re already familiar with haptic technology. It tells us when our phone is ringing by making the handset vibrate or replicates a rumble by juddering our games console handset. But now the use of haptic technology is being extended along with VR into applications which mimic natural interactions and materials, thanks mostly to advances in artificial intelligence.

For example, studies have shown that adding haptic technology into surgical robots can improve the feedback and accuracy to the surgeon operating them. The principle of getting a feel for what the robot is interacting with presents incredibly powerful opportunities and applications.

The future of haptic technology

Scientists are busy presenting these applications to the world and already we’re seeing great leaps in ways in which haptic technology, combined with AR and VR technology, can convey information on how much something weighs, how tightly an object is squeezed, how it feels to pull something and all of those other tactile senses that we’re so familiar with in our body’s daily interactions with the world around us.

Many of us probably hadn’t envisaged that haptic technology would be integrated within the robotics and VR of the world as we know it. But leaps in the development of this are an actual reality and will be with us very soon.