Haptic devices use vibration, force or movement created through sensors to allow users to ‘feel’ the physical sensations of virtual objects or environments.
A simple example is the way our phones can vibrate to tell us they are ringing. A more sophisticated example is how a hand controller can recreate the sensation of picking up an object in a game.
Companies are working to develop haptic gloves, vests, suits and other products that can create an even more realistic and immersive sensory experience.
HoloSuit, Teslasuit, Exoskin jacket, Plexus VR gloves, Dexmo gloves, EXOS Wrist DK2 and Gripper, and Manus Prime X Haptic VR gloves are examples of haptics available commercially.
While these devices remain expensive and are not yet commonly purchased by most Australians, wearable haptics such as vests are increasingly available for hire through virtual reality gaming rooms in Australia. One suit even mimics the sensation of being shot or attacked.
Haptic technologies such as gaming controllers and the headsets that go with them are generally meant for use by children and young people aged 13 and older. It's expected that haptics will continue to evolve to include wearables such as feedback suits that could allow for intimate physical connection between people, and further age guidance will be needed to ensure safe and age-appropriate use.
What to look for
As haptic technologies evolve, they will offer a range of intensities. Some may simply provide physical sensation to just one part of the body (for example, a glove allowing us to touch objects). Others may provide stimulation to the whole body (like a haptic suit).
As with any technology, before buying a haptic device or wearable for your child, you should consider:
- whether the technology is age-appropriate
- how your child may interact with objects or other people and whether these functions can be limited
- how haptics, when used in conjunction with goggles and headsets, limit our awareness in a physical room – make sure there is plenty of space around the user to avoid colliding with walls or objects.
How to stay safe:
- Where possible, choose immersive landscapes and games that create a set distance in the virtual environment between participants. This stops others being able to ‘touch’ or physically interact with your child via sensors. For example, Horizon Worlds has introduced a safety feature ‘Personal Boundary’ that can be accessed in the Settings menu. Personal Boundary provides 1.2 metres between your child and other avatars and will remain on by default for non-friends.
- For both children and adults, using stimulating technologies (like headsets, goggles and haptics) can cause motion sickness. Limit use and take regular breaks.
- Consider your child’s developmental stage and ability to process emotions. Haptics add physical authenticity to virtual experiences, potentially increasing the severity of violent or graphic experiences. This can evoke a much stronger emotional response, including potentially longer-lasting feelings of fear, anxiety and trauma.