Your eyes tell you that your hand is locked in a vice-like mechanical device, but your fingertips tell you you're stroking fur. Welcome to the world of haptics, where nothing is quite how it feels.
As neuroscientists decode how we process signals from nerves that sense touch, engineers are beginning to use their discoveries to dupe us into feeling something that isn't there. Given the right kind of manipulation, a smooth surface can be made to mimic the feel of a range of materials, and a solid slab can be made to feel like shifting sand.
As well as producing weird tactile illusions, haptics have practical uses. For example, tactile feedback can make touchscreen devices more intuitive to use, says Vincent Hayward, head of haptics at the Institute of Intelligent Systems and Robotics at Pierre and Marie Curie University in Paris, France. Such systems are already in use on some smartphones in which actuators within the touchscreen produce a basic "clicking" sensation when the screen is pressed.
Immersion, a company in San Jose, California, is attempting to push haptics further. In a system planned for later this year, users will be given the tactile illusion that touchscreen buttons protrude from the surface. This will be achieved by using a piezoelectric motor to vibrate the screen laterally, though beyond that Immersion is not revealing how its system will work.
From New Scientist
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