How important is haptic feedback in the field of learning and skill development?
Before we answer this question let us first touch upon the significance of ‘touch’. Ever wondered what it would feel like if you held a ball but could not feel it in your hand? Or you try to run your hand across a piece of fabric and do not feel a thing? Sounds weird, right? This is precisely what an absence of the sense of touch would be like. While you can see the ball, you cannot figure out if it’s light or heavy; you can hear the rustle of the fabric but cannot understand if it is silk or satin. It is only when you touch them that the complete picture emerges.
Now let us move over to the digital world where you can see objects and hear sounds. Virtual scenarios are being created in the metaverse which are close replicas of the real-world environments. It is possible to interact with the environment; not just play games but also learn skills and concepts. Learning and development in extended reality is touching new heights but with that one missing sense of touch, some skills may be a little difficult to master. This is where the technology of haptics comes in to fill the gap.
What is haptic feedback?
Haptic technology stimulates the senses of touch and motion to replicate sensations similar to that one would feel when handling objects in the real-world. In doing so it can be said to be bridging a crucial gap between the physical and digital world. The easiest example that first comes to mind is the dual-shock controller of the PlayStation. Remember feeling the recoil after shooting a gun in a game? On a lesser, but no less significant level, is the long press that a smart phone screen recognizes and gives vibrating feedback. It establishes the communication cycle between the device and the user.
On a more elaborate stage, we have special haptic gloves that can be paired with virtual reality devices to recreate a realistic world experience in the virtual world.
Benefits of haptic feedback
The significance of haptic feedback is not debatable but there have been technological constraints that have withheld its implementation. Not anymore. With haptic gloves now amidst us, the virtual world cannot just be seen but also felt. How does this benefit the user? In a number of ways. And when it comes to the learning and development field, the benefits steer towards promising times.
Natural interaction: What feels normal – holding a piece of instrument and experiencing its physical features or holding a piece of instrument and feeling nothing at all. Obviously, the former. When we hold something in the real world we can feel its texture, weight, and shape. If the same sensation is achieved in the virtual world, a sense of normalcy is perceived.
Clearer perspective: When we operate a forklift, we feel the weight of the machine and the objects being lifted. When dropping off objects, a great degree of precision and care is required. If something goes wrong there are consequences. Being able to feel those effects presents a clearer perspective of the job at hand and the skill required to master it. This gains crucial importance in the field of healthcare training.
In a healthcare set up, when performing a head-to-toe assessment, the sense of touch plays an important role in diagnosis. Haptics enables practicing this skill with a virtual patient in a virtual environment with great effectiveness.
Immersive experience: Audio and visual presentations are immersive, no doubts about that. Add the element of touch and sensation to this and the immersive quotient will take a huge leap. It will throw the user into a highly engaging environment which would be almost as realistic as the real-world. Such immersive experiences help achieve unmatched results.
Lasting impression: Holding and feeling an object does not end with a sensation to the skin. That sensation sends signals to the brain which helps understand that object better. It creates an image in the brain that forms a lasting impression. When this is applied to learning and development these stimuli can help better understand, remember, retain, and replicate.
User satisfaction: Along with sight and sound when a user gets haptic feedback for actions there is a greater sense of satisfaction. The user’s involvement is enhanced helping take away a richer experience. For example, when a user bounces a ball in a virtual space and gets to feel the pressure with every bounce the satisfaction rate is far greater than sans haptic. A satisfied user is more likely to remember experiences and learn better.
Haptic feedback has been around for some time but is now evolving from the mere vibration to realistic feedback. The coming of products like the SenseGlove is promising an increased immersive experience in virtual reality apps and the metaverse, especially when it comes to learning and development. VR enabled us to step into a new world and haptics is allowing us to touch and feel in that world.