Scientists Say: Haptic

This word describes things related to our sense of touch

a teen girl taps a smartphone touch screen

Touch-screen devices such as smartphones and tablets offer haptic feedback to users through vibrations.

Thitikarn Paothongthai/Moment/Getty Images

Haptic (adjective, “HAP-tik”)

This word is used to describe things related to the sense of touch. The skin is full of receptors that send different types of haptic information — such as texture or pressure — to the brain. Smartphones and game controllers offer haptic feedback to users through vibrations. Future haptic devices could use sound waves we can’t hear to make users feel objects that aren’t there.

When the word is the plural “haptics,” it becomes a noun. That word can have one of two meanings. First, it is the area of science that studies touch. Second, it is the use of technology to add touch sensations to interactions with machines. For instance, in the haptics settings on a smartphone, users can turn vibrations on or off. Haptics researchers are trying to add tactile experiences to virtual reality. That could make virtual worlds more immersive.

In a sentence

A new haptic device brings the feeling of distant objects right to a user’s fingertips. 

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Maria Temming is the Assistant Managing Editor at Science News Explores. She has bachelor's degrees in physics and English, and a master's in science writing.

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