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Haptics, or haptic sensing, refers to the ability to identify and perceive objects through touch. This is active touch, involving exploration of an object with the hand rather than the passive sensing of a vibration or force on the skin. The development of new technologies, including prosthetic hands and tactile surfaces for flat screen displays, depends on our knowledge of haptics. In this volume in the MIT Press Essential Knowledge series, Lynette Jones offers an accessible overview of haptics, or active touch sensing, and its applications.
Jones explains that haptics involves integrating information from touch and kinesthesia—that is, information both from sensors in the skin and from sensors in muscles, tendons, and joints. The challenge for technology is to reproduce in a virtual world some of the sensations associated with physical interactions with the environment.
Jones maps the building blocks of the tactile system, the receptors in the skin and the skin itself, and how information is processed at this interface with the external world. She describes haptic perception, the processing of haptic information in the brain; haptic illusions, or distorted perceptions of objects and the body itself; tactile and haptic displays, from braille to robotic systems; tactile compensation for other sensory impairments; surface haptics, which creates virtual haptic effects on physical surfaces such as touch screens; and the development of robotic and prosthetic hands that mimic the properties of human hands.