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” Relaxed in their pneumatic seats, Lenina and the Savage, they smelled and listened, until it was time to see and feel.
The lights apagaro n and of darkness a flaming, solid letters, which seemed to float in the air emerged. ‘Three weeks in helicopter’. A film and sensitive , supercantado, spoken synthetically, color and stereoscopic synchronized accompaniment one scent organ.
“Grab those metal knobs from the arms of your chair,” Lenina whispered. Otherwise you will not notice the tactile effects . The savage obeyed his instructions.
That feeling in his own lips! He put a hand to his mouth; the tickling ceased; He put his left hand back on the metal knob and felt them again. Meanwhile, the organ of perfumes, exhaled pure musk . ”
When Aldous Huxley described sensitive films in his satire “A Happy World” of the 30s, he imagined a world in which the sense of touch would be as exploited by the technology of the future as that of sight and hearing .
That has been slow to arrive.
But it’s coming.
Although the sense of touch has not had a stellar role as a means of interacting with machines, laboratories around the world are eager to close the gap, and the first commercial applications are coming to market.
So far we have interacted with a virtual environment using a plurality of portable devices. In the near future, connoisseurs say, there will be no need for us to charge laptops or mobile phones .
The implementation of haptic technology, they say, will take us to a new era, in which the virtual world will be with us even if we do not see it and we will be able to feel it.
The word haptic , from the Greek ἅπτικός, means belonging to the sense of touch and comes from the Greek verb ἅπτεσθαι ( haptesthai ) , which means contact or touch.
” Haptic is for the sense of touch what optics is for the sense of sight, ” said Will Provancher, an associate professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Utah, in the USA.
If you have played a video game, you may have used haptic technology on your joystick. If your cell phone vibrates in your pocket, that’s also haptic technology.
But now imagine that you are on the sofa in your house, very comfortable, watching an interesting program on television.
When finished, you want to change the channel … but where did you leave the remote control?
Suddenly you remember that you do not need it: you are a fortunate possessor of a gadget with haptic technology.
As you are, without having any device in any part of your body, you raise your hand and, although you can not see anything floating in the air, you feel the controls and press the button.
In Bristol, England, the Ultrahaptics company uses ultrasound to produce “focal points” – concentrated sound waves suspended in the air – that essentially create a floating, invisible button that responds to tactile feedback.
The user can “feel” those points and can even feel differences between the points.
And touching something that does not exist is an amazing experience .
Maybe because technology has already accustomed us to listen to what we do not see and to see the impossible.
Or perhaps because the sense of touch transmits much more information to our brain than a single sense can provide.
Touch transmits temperature, pressure and texture . The touch is dramatic. Touch connects us.
Touch helps immerse the user in the world he is creating for him.
But, how to feel what is not there?
“Haptic refers to the sensory aspect that comes from the spinal cord, it includes the sensation of touch and interoception,” answered one of the pioneers in virtual reality, the computer philosopher Jaron Lanier, when he spoke with the BBC.
“It is a vast sensory system processed by a large area of the brain,” he added.
“From my point of view it is a giant ocean of intelligence that we have used only as a way to move but that can be extraordinary .”
“If you watch the improvising pianists, they can sometimes solve mathematical problems by choosing musical notes that they could not solve so easily in another way,” he said.
“It’s that kind of abstract thinking that we’d like to explore better, the problem is that we know less about haptic sensations than about the other senses, and it’s harder to design experiments to study them.”
Are we creating a reality that imitates ours or one that is equally tangible but recognizably different?
“The two things are equally interesting but in different ways,” he replied.
” When trying to replicate reality, the interesting thing is precisely that you discover that it is impossible “.
“One might think that if we knew all we have to know about the way we perceive reality through our senses and replicate it with technology, the virtual world could be as real as … the real one,” he explained.
“However, the way we perceive the world is not limited to the senses.”
“The brain is a fluid and plastic creature that grows and learns, so I believe that as we have more and better experiences of virtual reality or haptic illusions, we will learn to perceive the realities with increasing precision “.
“If we brought the future, with a time machine, that technology and we used it, it would deceive us.”
“But the people who are going to be using that technology as it develops will not cheat them because they will have learned to see the world better than we see it today.”
And what would you like to be able to do to Lanier with the haptic technology that we still can not do?
” So many things, one of them would be to connect with another person and we can see each other better.”
On the horizon
More than just looking good, as Lanier yearns, there are researchers working on affective haptics.
The idea is that online interactions depend heavily on vision and hearing, but so far not physical contact, which is very important emotionally .
He is still in diapers but, for example, Simon Fraser University developed a glove that helps transmit the touch of a hand. If you wear the Flex-N-Feel and fold or move the fingers of the hand, one signal travels via wi-fi to the sensors in the other glove, which vibrates to recreate the movement.
That way you can caress or hold someone’s hand even if you are on the other side of the world.
In the field of medicine, haptic technology promises futures that most of us would like to see come true as soon as possible.
The medical professionals already use it during the training exercises to practice surgical techniques, as well as during the surgeries themselves. However, until now, robotics has not been able to transmit tactile feedback to the surgeon.
Hundreds of thousands of minimally invasive robotic surgeries are performed annually, but surgeons operate without the benefit of the sense of touch .
Ideally, for example, a surgeon could receive haptic feedback from a person’s heart and solve the problem without opening the chest cavity to use their hands.
And that is what is being worked on.