"One major reason hands-on experiences are so different from digital experiences is the sense of touch. When you go shopping at a retail store, for example, you can handle an item before you buy it. When you shop online, you can only see it.
That’s bound to change, because haptic technology—technology that conveys a sense of touch—is already here. You can find it in the automotive industry, in dental training, in videogames and even on your smartphone’s keypad. But it has not spread to everyday desktop computer use.
Haptic technology relies on actuators—a generic term describing motors, electronic brakes and pneumatic systems. Actuators can create a vibration or force that generates the touch sensation.
“One of the biggest challenges in building futuristic interfaces is current actuator technology,” said Hakan Gurocak, professor and director of the School of Engineering and Computer Science at Washington State University Vancouver.
Gurocak’s research addresses that challenge. This summer, he received his first two U.S. patents—one to help develop electronically controlled brakes, and the other for an improved internal design that will allow for a much smaller but more powerful actuator. These two patents are a big step toward haptic interfaces—possibly something wearable, like a type of glove—that will be more usable and will enable many more applications for the technology.
“It’s very exciting to me personally, and it was quite a learning process to go from ‘I have an idea, I wonder if it would work,’ and ending up with a U.S. patent,” Gurocak said."