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“Immersion was founded with the idea that haptics was missing from digital experiences,” says the company’s vice-president of products and marketing, John Griffin. “Touch is your largest sensory organ, so why wouldn’t game designers and content developers bring that sense of touch to the experiences they’re creating?” Ubiquitous video connectivity has helped people combat the isolation of this year ’s stay-at-home and social distancing orders, but while these technologies have been transformative, the human touch is still absent. Could the old AT&T slogan “reach out and touch someone” finally become a reality? “Until recently, the experience you could produce with haptics was limited – think of a cellphone or a pager buzz,” explains Griffin. “What’s changed in the last couple years is the cost and complexity of implementing haptics has come down. The actuators – the motors – have become cheaper, and the level of sophistication and performance has improved dramatically. Now you can get very nuanced, high-fidelity effects from these devices.” Tools and techniques for developing haptic experience have become more accessible, too. “Haptic designers can create haptic effects like an audio

sound designer would create sound or graphic artist would create graphic effects. It’s not quite at that level of maturity, but it’s heading in that direction,” he adds. MAKING FOR THE PEOPLE Sony’s new PlayStation 5 gaming console is creating a lot of buzz (!) for its sophisticated haptics system. The console’s dual controllers use new high-fidelity haptics for producing wide-bandwidth effects and textures. The controllers also feature force feedback on the triggers, which can mimic resistance a game character might encounter when manipulating objects, providing information about movement, weight and textures. The variable feedback can also simulate a character ’s internal state – some games make the triggers harder to press when the character is tired or injured. In the past, haptics development was very siloed, with developers and manufacturers delivering solutions almost on a product-by-product basis with no wider haptics ecosystem for development and collaboration to take place in. This made it harder for the technology to spread widely and for developers to work experimentally or creatively with haptics. But companies working with haptics are beginning to come together to establish industry- wide standards and best practices. “We’ve led an effort to promote haptics standards in the Moving Picture Experts Group (MPEG) and put in proposals to make haptics a first-order media type. That would mean a haptic track could live alongside audio and video content in an MPEG container,” explains Griffin.

FEELING GROOVY Interhaptics is a development suite created for XR and mobile. The suite includes two dev applications

The bandwidth required for haptics data is fairly limited, nothing like the size of video or audio. Transmitting haptic data to a user ’s haptic device yields a pretty big return in terms of the small amount of data required to produce an effect on the audience. Even complex haptic experiences may not be that demanding to livestream. “In lockdown, the idea of using everything from day-to-day enterprise communications to sex tech. Touch is such an integral part of who we are and what we do, from shaking hands to giving someone a hug or tap on the shoulder. So what are ways that existing products can bring users closer together? And how could the sense of touch be deployed in news ways?,” asks Griffin. technology to facilitate touch has become a bigger thing – in FINDING A LANGUAGE OF TOUCH Creating haptic experiences on a large scale requires a common language. Engagement with standards bodies – like Immersion’s proposals to MPEG – is one necessary step. Another is developing tools that will allow new entrants to create their own haptic experiences without needing a huge tech company backing them. French tech company Interhaptics has launched Haptic Composer, which is an application for simplifying and democratising haptics design, and aims to be for haptics what Adobe Photoshop is for image editing. Another software, Interaction Builder, is a low code 3D engine plug-in for developing realistic hand interactions for virtual environments. “Interhaptics is a design system for digital touch and software that allows


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