The Ultimate Guide to Haptics

© | Dima Sidelnikov

In this article, you will learn about 1) an introduction to haptics, 2) haptics in video games, 3) mobile devices and haptics, 4) haptics in medicine, 5) haptics in automotive, and 6) wearable haptics.


Haptics has an ancient history. The word haptics is derived from the Greek word haptikos which means to grasp or perceive. Today’s word refers to the science of touch. Haptics is integrated into recent technology in a variety of ways. It started with the integration of motors that created vibrations. Now, haptics has been transformed from a gadget you carry in a case to technology you can wear on your wrist.

You could encounter haptic technology almost anywhere today. If you have a mobile phone with a vibrate function, you will use haptic technology every day. If you play video games, drive a new car or have an interest in all things Apple, you will encounter haptics. If you go to the doctor or the dentist for a surgical procedure, there is a good chance that your surgeon practiced with technology involving haptics.

Haptics enhances everyday experiences by creating a sense of enhanced realism. In video games, users feel the rumble strips when they cross over a white line. When driving a real car, the steering wheel or touch pad can improve usability and safety of a vehicle. If you are using a mobile phone, haptics provides you with tactile confirmation that you have completed a task, leaving you feeling more confident about using your device.

Haptic technology is growing quickly. Soon, you will be able to feel the power and realism of haptics almost anywhere.


The earliest haptics in videos games consisted of carefully controlled vibrations that were sent through a handheld controller. As new systems launched, the competition became fierce. Soon Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft all had their own version of haptic technology in their consoles. Since the 1990s, haptics have gone much further than the controller and have transformed gaming into a completely interactive experience.

The Earliest Haptics in Video Games

The N64 rumble packs were a part of any Nintendo lover’s arsenal. These rumble packs were the precursor to the integrated and advanced haptics that gamers experience today.

Rumble packs included an actuator, a type of motor, to convert energy into responsive vibrations. These vibrations were managed by the software in the N64 system and in the game. The software controlled when and how much the controller would vibrate.

Integrating Haptics into the Gaming Experience

Game designers and programmers needed to integrate haptics into the fabric of their software to make the most of the technology. Turn 10’s Forza series took on that challenge and completed it with perfect precision.

Forza 5 changed driving simulation games by offering a fuller simulation for the controller. When gamers are racing through the streets of Prague, they can feel every cobblestone. The game was one of the flagship games launched with Microsoft’s Xbox One. Microsoft felt it was the best game on the market to show off the 40 redesigned features of the new controller.

Beyond the Controller: Haptics for Gamers

Steering wheels have evolved dramatically over the last ten years. Many years ago fans were excited about the possibility of a Wii steering wheel. Now Logitech has released a series of steering wheels dedicated to those who love driving simulation games.

  • The Logitech G27 Racing controller provides an entirely new racing experience. When users grip the steering wheel, their reality is enhanced as they feel every bump on the road. The steering wheel also provides an exceptional level of responsiveness to the game which prevents dreaded lag time.
  • The feedback is also quieter than the previous G25 model. Users get the same forceful feedback without the heavy reliance on vibration.

Gaming chairs have also become a must-have tool for serious console and PC gamers. The chairs have several capabilities. Their ergonomic design helps intense gamers sit still in a chair for longer by making it both supportive and comfortable. Some chairs also offer the added benefit of haptic technology. D-BOX, Xrocker and Disney Research have all produced a chair designed to bring theater goers and gamers right into the action.

Surround Haptics: Virtual Reality, Disney and the “Immersive Tactile Experience”

Disney Research has spent the last few years working on what they call Surround Haptics. Surround Haptics offers users more than just vibrations. All of the sensations that the group is trying to create are cued by visual and auditory features that will draw the player into the game. It takes a lot of gear for Disney’s “immersive tactile experience”. Some of the tech the group is working on include gaming chairs, vests, theater seats, gloves, clothes, shoes, controllers and other hand-held devices. One of the sensations that Disney Research is trying to recreate is the feeling of a finger running down your skin.


Mobile device manufacturers were some of the first to widely adopt haptic technology on a large scale. The vibrate function on mobile phones quickly became a standard feature. However, haptics in mobile devices has moved way beyond “putting your phone on silent”. As mobile phones have evolved, haptics has come along for the ride to improve the mobile experience in communication and gaming.


The first mobile phone haptics included basic vibrations that allowed users to get notifications without having to turn on the ringer.

These vibrations are now fully customizable so users know what the notification is without looking at their device. Users can now set what vibration is used for a specific application.

Virtual Keyboards

As mobile devices began to move away from physical keyboards, manufacturers met some resistance from users. Many cited the addictive usability of Blackberry’s QWERTY keyboard as a reason to avoid new virtual keyboards.

Haptics became the saving grace of touch screen keyboards because they let users know that a key has been touched. The tactile feedback provides a similar recognition to the feedback provided by a physical keyboard.

Apple plans to take haptics even further with its next generation of iPhone, due for release in Autumn 2015. Apple calls its new technology “Force Touch”. Apple plans to integrate tactile feedback straight into the screen of the iPhone 6S. The feature is already available on the Apple Watch and within the trackpads of the newest MacBooks.

Some of the possibilities of Force Touch for iOS include reducing the number of actions required to complete tasks. With Force Touch, users may be able to change the background image without having to press several buttons and go through several menus.


New messaging systems no longer display haptic technology solely in the keyboard and personalized alerts. A new system called immersive messaging brings a new way to communicate through mobile messaging.

Immersive messaging allows users to share their thoughts and ideas through the physical senses instead of plain text. They do this through what is called hapticons. Hapticons are animated graphic symbols that users can insert into their messages.

The technology includes TouchSense as well as gestural technology. This opens up a whole new means of mobile communication because you can literally feel another person’s presence from your phone.

Mobile gaming

Haptics is essential for mobile gaming because it makes it easier to realize what actions you have taken. The extension of tactile feedback from consoles into mobile gaming is a natural one that has transformed mobile gaming into a huge platform.

Haptics provide a more immersive experience, which is particularly necessary on small screens.


Medicine has always been about creating a personal connection between a doctor and their patient. The sense of touch is incredibly important in medicine. But since technology has created new medical devices that allow doctors to complete procedures with minimal disruption to the patient, that personal connection has become distanced from the practice. When medical devices are integrated with haptic technology, the devices provide a new level of intuitive performance for medical practitioners. The result is a multi-disciplinary approach to developing medical devices.

Periodontal Training

Haptics has a place in the dentist’s office and in the doctor’s office. Dental training simulators become more effective and realistic when they are integrated with haptics. Many researchers believe that the use of haptic technology in student practice can help to eliminate professional errors.

The PerioSim, a periodontal simulator, can help dentists diagnose and treat diseases. The hardware necessary for this activity is minimal and includes a monitor, speakers, haptic interface device, glasses, helmets (for 2D and 3D video) and gloves to allow dentists to feel the sensations.

This kind of training teaches students good psychomotor skills and the correct use of dental instruments without having to practice on live patients.

The standardized system of evaluation allowed by these methods is also of benefit. Students can receive unlimited, objective and immediate access to feedback of their training.

It also leaves students and practitioners free to experiment with and pioneer new techniques without any real consequences.

Robotics and Surgery

Haptics have become a valuable and versatile tool in laparoscopic surgeries. Laparoscopies are traditionally diagnostic tools used in a surgical setting. Its invention changed medicine because it allowed surgeons to get clear internal pictures with only a small incision.

Most research suggests that the best way for a surgeon to diagnose a patient is to be able to use their own hands. Some say that surgical tools are the second best option. Laparoscopes were considered to be the third best option until they were integrated with haptic feedback.

Haptic technology helps doctors recognize foreign bodies and detect arterial pulsation. The artificial feedback allows doctors to get a similar sensation with this tool that they would also get from their hands and other tools while still minimizing the discomfort of the patient.

Interactive Simulation

Interactive simulation has proven to be one of the best training tools for the newest generations of doctors, surgeons and nurses. The interactive scenarios include a virtual reality medical simulation that puts both students and established practitioners through their paces.

Haptics helps to bring a new kind of realism to virtual reality. The human body provides essential tactile feedback during surgery. For this to be lost in a simulation would mean that the sense of reality would be very skewed. By incorporating tactile realism into the education of doctors, these tools can be used to train doctors to work efficiently and without error.


Haptic technology can be integrated into many of the essential features of our daily lives. Using haptics in the design of today’s cars proves that haptics is one of the most versatile technologies available today. From safety features to entertainment, haptics can help ensure that the driving experience is made simple.

Safety Features

Sensors integrated with haptics can give drivers the warnings they need to avoid mistakes and accidents. Auto manufacturers are including vibration alerts that warn drivers when impact with another vehicle is likely.

Many cars currently use a series of beeps and noises that are designed to warn drivers. However, some argue that these noises are actually confusing and distracting.

If manufacturers integrated haptics into both steering wheels and seats, they could quickly and quietly warn drivers of danger. The use of haptics could make these sensors more intelligent and by extension, safer.

Human-Machine Interface

Lexus has always been a pioneer in luxury cars. The company focuses on the relationship between humans and machines. This relationship epitomizes the modern automotive industry.

Lexus has integrated a system into its high-end vehicles that is remarkably similar to the interface of a normal desktop PC. The company has created a device that resembles a computer mouse to help drivers control the car’s climate, audio system and navigation.

In the newest generation of Lexus vehicles, the company has installed a remote touch interface. Now, drivers can control their systems with a touch-sensitive pad that emulates a laptop touchpad or a tablet. The design is put in the center console, close to where the average driver would rest their arm.

The design now allows drivers to control their vehicles with only their fingertips. This is a huge evolution from the whole-arm movements required of past systems.

Console and Dashboard Feedback

Aston Martin has integrated haptics into its newest console interface. The luxury auto manufacturer created a futuristic yet beautiful center console in its newest Vanquish model.

The new model includes two touch-sensitive pads and two rotating knobs. The new design is intuitive and provides the feedback drivers need to keep their eyes on the road.


Wearable haptics goes far beyond the Apple Watch. Haptics has recently hit the fashion scene by integrating technology into clothes that people actually want to wear. Many designers want to create gadgets and fashion that allow people to take their eyes off their phone and instead take in the world around them.

Apple Watch

The Apple Watch is undoubtedly the hero product of 2015 and beyond. It has integrated haptics in a way that dismisses the problems that other technologies have yet to master. Apple calls its technology the “taptic engine”. It is designed to engage your senses when you are receiving information or sending communications.

The Apple Watch allows the wearer to hear and feel communication. Users have the ability to send another person a tap. When they tap their watch, the receiver will feel a similar sensation on the other end.

Alert Shirt

The Alert Shirt by Wearable Experiments combines a sports fan’s two favorite things: their jersey and their team’s scores. The Alert Shirt allows fans to live the game. They feel the same experiences that the players have through their haptic shirt. The shirt combines three primary elements with sports data that is collected in real time through a smartphone application. The application transmits the stats to the jersey which then creates real sensations based on whether the team is winning, losing or on the edge.


CuteCircuit has made years of fashion fantasy possible. CuteCircuit makes apparel and software that go hand in hand to help you create an ever-changing look. The garments they create will change patterns or colors when you send them a signal with the corresponding app. Clothing designs can be rented or purchased. The clothes and the app connect through Bluetooth. It is currently available for iOS.

Kovert Designs

Kovert Designs offers customers a collection of jewelry that is made from traditional materials like silver or gold. These pieces are integrated with haptic technology. Each of these rings, necklaces and bracelets contains hidden technology that connects wirelessly to your mobile phone.

You can set them up to vibrate when you get a notification. The notifications are completely customizable. You can set them up to notify you when you receive messages from certain applications or even certain contacts. You can even set it up to only notify you if a certain keyword is detected in a message. The jewelry is entirely waterproof. You can also wear it for a week with only a single charge.


Haptics has transformed from a fringe benefit of video games and mobile devices to a technology that is taking over the way people live their lives. Recent developments in products like the Apple Watch have demonstrated just how versatile and amazing technology can be when it includes tactile feedback. Manufacturers from all industries have become involved with developing haptic technology to take their products further. From automotive features to medical advancements, haptic technology ensures that the future includes plenty of sensory experiences for everyone.

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