Haptic feedback improves your user experience by allowing users to interact with your HMI in a more natural and intuitive way.
Imagine a chef carefully seasoning a dish, adding just the right amount of salt to bring out the flavors and make the meal more enjoyable. Similarly, haptics in HMIs (Human-Machine Interfaces) enhances the user experience and makes interacting with the HMI more intuitive, much like the way salt enhances the overall taste of a dish.
In this article, we explain why haptic feedback feels so natural and how HMIs in almost all application areas can benefit from improved safety and accuracy by integrating haptics. So, just like a chef’s seasoning, let’s dive into the world of haptic feedback and see how it can add that extra touch of flavor to your user experience.
Image: Jason Tuinstra
What benefits haptics in HMIs offer for your user experience
Why haptic feedback feels so natural and intuitive
Haptic feedback is the sensation of touch or movement that we experience when interacting with a device or machine. This type of feedback is becoming increasingly common in technology, and for a good reason. It feels natural and intuitive since it mimics the physical world, where we interact with objects by touching and feeling them.
The sense of touch is one of our most important senses, and it has evolved over millions of years to help us survive in the natural world. Touch allows us to explore our surroundings, sense danger, and interact with other living beings. When we touch an object, our nerves send signals to our brain, which interprets the signals to create a sense of texture, shape, and temperature.
Haptic feedback works by using similar signals to mimic the sensation of touch, even when we are interacting with a virtual object on a screen. This is why haptic feedback feels so natural when we use devices. It creates a sense of physical presence, helping us to feel more connected to technology. Additionally, it helps us to easier understand, how to interact with a new device, when we can rely on our innate sense of touch to guide us.
However, this requires a deep understanding of which user is interacting with your device, at what time, and in what way. If the haptic stimuli don’t match the actual command or expected response – e.g. if they are too strong, too weak, delayed, or inconsistent – rather than simplifying the interaction, the user may experience additional stress or frustration. Used correctly, however, haptic feedback is a powerful tool to significantly improve the experience of operating your HMI.
Haptics enriches your HMI user experience with additional stimuli
For years, haptics has been the most promising technology for a more immersive and realistic user experience, especially in simulations and gaming. Whether in peripheral devices such as controllers and mice or in close-to-body haptic technologies such as gloves and haptic vests, tactile feedback continues to accompany us, especially when it comes to virtual and mixed reality.
But haptics is not just a nice to have or an exciting product feature. Rather, haptic feedback adds a whole new level of stimuli to HMI operation, equal to visual and auditory feedback. This is particularly useful when the HMI provides extensive visual information, however, the operator’s attention is on the action itself. For example, haptic feedback can be used in navigational systems, such as endoscopes or CNC drilling machines, to give users an additional sense of direction.
But haptic feedback does not only supplement visual stimuli. Additional guidance can also be useful in audio-intensive human-machine interactions. To name just one example, think of your smartphone or smartwatch. Surely you have found yourself in a situation where you just couldn’t turn on a ringtone, whether at home or in a meeting. Here, it is taken for granted that devices offer vibrotactile haptic feedback, to subtly attract our attention. The same can be applied to the operation of devices and machines in noisy environments, such as in the field of farming, or industry, but also in situations where audio signals are disturbing, such as laboratory environments or sound studios.
Haptic feedback is an essential component of intuitive user interface designs. Truly immersive HMIs should address the human senses on the auditory, visual, and tactile levels. | Image: Haptics Alliance
Haptics in HMIs boosts operation intuitiveness in every industry, but not in every situation
But of course, haptics is no magic cure-all! Indeed, there are applications in which haptic feedback offers less added value. However, from our perspective, we are not talking about complete application areas in which haptics are not justified in HMIs, but rather – as you may have already noticed from the previous section – specific situations.
In some situations, technologies such as voice assistants can be a better alternative to haptics in HMIs. | Image: Bartek Szewczyk
So, just take a moment to think of your industry. We are convinced that you will find similar scenarios in almost any area in which people interact with more or less smart devices and machines. For this reason, the question is not in which application area haptics can be applied, but rather which problems in which situation haptics can solve for a simpler, safer, and more intuitive user experience.
Haptics makes operating your device more intuitive, safe, and easy – though not in every situation, but in almost every field of application. This is primarily as haptics appeal to one of our most fundamental senses, the sense of touch. When done right, haptic feedback can mimic stimuli in such a way that it helps us to interact with technical devices in a more natural way. Moreover, haptics in HMIs provides us with an additional layer of information that can help us maintain safe and precise control in situations where visual or auditory communication is disrupted (intentionally or unintentionally) in human-machine interactions.
You want to learn more about haptic feedback and why describing haptic sensations is so hard? Check out our article about the topic.