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What is "Haptics"? 

By Gabriel Robles-De-La-Torre, PhD

In experimental psychology and physiology, the word haptic refers to the ability to experience the environment through active exploration, typically with our hands, as when palpating an object to gauge its shape and material properties. This is commonly called active or haptic touch (see Further Reading).

Increasingly, the words haptic and haptics are used to refer to all touch and touch-related capabilities, including the ability to sense the position and movement of one's limbs (commonly called kinesthesia or proprioception, see Further Reading). You can easily experience these capabilities by closing you eyes and noticing how you can determine the position of your hands, arms and legs without looking at them. 

More generally, Haptics is commonly used today to refer to the science of touch in real and virtual environments. This would include not only the study of touch capabilities in different organisms, including humans, but also the development of engineering systems to create haptic virtual environments. The latter subfield is commonly known as computer haptics. This technology does for touch what computer graphics does for vision. You can see an animation explaining the basics of computer haptics here.

Next topic: Why is Haptics important?

Further reading

Robles-De-La-Torre G. "The Importance of the Sense of Touch in Virtual and Real Environments". IEEE Multimedia 13(3), Special issue on Haptic User Interfaces for Multimedia Systems, pp. 24-30. (2006).

Copyright 2006 IEEE. Personal use of this material is permitted. However, permission to reprint/republish this material for advertising or promotional purposes or for creating new collective works for resale or redistribution to servers or lists, or to reuse any copyrighted component of this work in other works must be obtained from the IEEE.

Robles-De-La-Torre G. "Virtual Reality: Touch / Haptics". In Goldstein B (Ed.), "SAGE Encyclopedia of Perception". Sage Publications,Thousand Oaks, CA (2009).

Hayward V, Astley OR, Cruz-Hernandez M, Grant D, Robles-De-La-Torre G. "Haptic Interfaces and Devices". Sensor Review 24(1), pp. 16-29 (2004).

Robles-De-La-Torre G. "Principles of Haptic Perception in Virtual Environments". In Grunwald M (Ed.), "Human Haptic Perception", Birkhäuser Verlag (2008). Legal notice

Grunwald M (Ed.), "Human Haptic Perception", Birkhäuser Verlag (2008).



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