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Advanced Wearables: The Future is Haptic With The Rise of 5G

The launch of the Oculus Quest 2, as the world’s first untethered VR headset, has shown us the beginnings of what could be achieved, and now it’s up to developers to give us what is possible. Therefore, the future looks promising, and maybe even a little scary.

With several major manufacturers now working on a range of VR headset designs, the visuals are going to be well catered for in creating realistic worlds for us to become immersed in, but that is only half the story, and we are going to see an increase in peripherals that augment the VR experience. Haptic devices are likely to become the next big thing in a number of applications, including gaming.

The term ‘haptic’ is derived from the Greek word for touch, and is a thrilling field that promises to change the way that we interact with the world. Ignoring the Greek root, haptics relates to the use of tactile sensations in interfaces such as wearables, and the transmitting and understanding information through the sense of touch. While even the scientific definition of the field doesn’t sound that exciting, the haptic products that are already available and those in the pipeline will change your mind, once you try them.

The point of haptics is to deliver a feeling alongside the visuals that your eyes are receiving, and to create a total immersion that adds another dimension to the gaming experience. If you’ve used the force-feedback feature on a game console, then you have experienced haptics, albeit in a coarse and graceless way. Having your mobile device on vibrate is also a kind of haptics. However, getting relentless vibrations through your console controller or phone is a far cry from the subtle and highly effective systems that are going to change the face of not only gaming but how we interact with the world around us.

Haptics relate to three distinct interaction areas of being graspable, wearable, and touchable. By using these features – and even combinations of them – a user can touch, feel, and really experience the world. The world of medicine is experiencing a growing trend for remote operations, where a specialist surgeon uses connected robotics to carry out delicate procedures on a patient that might be on a different continent. Haptics gives the surgeon the ability to ‘feel’ what they are doing and provides positive feedback.

Full body haptic suits use the sensation of touch to enhance the game experience. Early examples of haptic suits consisted of a thick, vest-style garment that covered the upper torso and was able to deliver sensations throughout much of its internal surface via small hydraulic actuators or electrical transducers to simulate punches, kicks, and bullet strikes. More modern variants, such as the Teslasuit, take that notion to a whole new level and allow users to experience virtual reality through subtle interactions with electrically-operated pads, and to feel sensations that are generated in the virtual world.

Now imagine a system where haptics is married to a VR experience. Whatever is happening in the virtual world can be given an extra dimension by introducing feeling, and that can boost your gaming experience by several notches. Use a gun in-game while wearing haptic gloves, and get a feeling of recoil; take a pummeling in The Thrill of the Fight, and feel every one of those punches. Haptics makes it seem real.

But key to the process is the need for the suit, like the VR headset, to be untethered, giving the user full movement and full feedback without fear of tripping up. To get the most out of the system, it needs to have a strong connection between the app being used and the suit itself, and that means ultra-fast Wi-Fi. A year or two ago, you may have had to put up with a bit of lag, but now with the rise of 5G and with everything connected, you should experience seamless gameplay.

VR is already an exciting concept itself, but with the haptic feedback it is going to be ten times more impressive and it’s all held together by the glue of 5G.