“Haptics” is not a common household word, however haptic technology is a phenomenon that 6 billion people will feel on an almost daily basis. Haptic is from the Greek "haptesthai," meaning to touch, and as a noun, haptics usually means the science and physiology of the sense of touch.
For most of us, haptic technology is experienced as a buzz in our pockets when a phone message arrives, or "force feedback" on gaming joysticks and steering wheels. However, by 2022, the haptic technology market is expected to be valued at USD 19.55 Billion, at a compound annual growth rate of 16.20% between 2016 and 2022.
The key drivers contributing to the growth of the market primarily includes the increasing adoption of haptics in consumer electronic devices such as smartphones and tablets, the growing demand for haptics in gaming consoles (more specifically VR), and the potential market for haptics in medical and automotive sectors.
This is leading to the development of haptics to tailor to our everyday lives. There are several novel concepts in markets you would not expect; for example, yoga tights that by increasing the frequency and intensity of the vibrations tell you how far off you are from the ideal positions as illustrated in an accompanying app. Phone giants like Nokia and Novint are using small piezoelectric sensor pads under their touchscreens and designing the screen so it could move slightly when pressed so that when a user presses the button, he or she feels movement in and movement out, and they also hear an audible click. This would be especially useful for car manufacturers, so that drivers could adjust the settings on their car with one hand, without having to look away from the road, reducing the risk of accidents.
At the moment the most sophisticated touch technology is found in industrial, military and medical applications, as training with haptics is becoming more and more common. For example, medical students can now perfect delicate surgical techniques on the computer, actually feeling the hearts vessels as they perform a virtual coronary heart bypass surgery, adding a deeper level of training before moving on to real life scenarios.
With this technology becoming more readily available, and more importantly less expensive, we can look at its future uses in exhibitions and tradeshows. Already smart shoes are under development, which is embedded with haptic sensors that are connected via Bluetooth to your phone's navigation app. The shoes vibrate, telling you whether to turn left, right or carry straight on. This has possible applications at exhibitions. Having the map of a huge exhibition (the world expo for example), or a trade show downloaded on your phone, visitors could have highlighted their preferences/what they wanted to see. The shoes would help guide visitors through everything, without having to look at phones for directions, and potentially miss something cool along the way. They could even register how many people were queuing up outside of a certain stand, to guide visitors around crowds, or towards a talk that started at 16:00. The same shoes could be used for the visually impaired, where you could create a three-dimensional grid of force fields for each structure to enable them to walk through the entire exhibition unaided, except for the haptic vibrations in their feet.
Similarly, the potential use for haptics in exhibitor’s products themselves is vast and picking up pace. Imagine going to an auto show, putting on a VR headset, and actually being able to feel the steering wheel, gearstick and revving engine as you test drive an audio R8 virtually. You could try on a t-shirt, that would seemingly expand or retract with electromagnetic pulses, so you could feel what size to wear, and which could be expanded to all clothing. You could turn the music up and down, or switch songs without touching anything but the air, however, your hand would feel like its touching actual buttons.
The applications for haptic technology is limitless, not just showcasing products that are difficult to place, or that are a limited number. Development in haptics is happening at a quickening pace, and we would not be surprised to see it everything from schools and supermarkets to exhibitions and roadshows in the coming years.
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