Background

Touch is our most primal sense. It allows us to express intimacy, feel pain, heat, differentiate between textures, and enable dexterity and tool use. Touch is also extraordinarily complex, and our scientific understanding, cultural expressions, and technological utilisation of touch lags significantly behind that of our other senses.

This is however changing as the haptic technology market is currently experiencing an explosion of interest; growing at 12% CAGR and projected to reach $4.6 billion by 2026. This growth is mostly driven by the ever-increasing integration of touch technologies into consumer electronics, a keen adoption by the medical and automotive industries, and the rise of the immersive economy. Meanwhile, R&D in haptic technologies has carved a long and sustained history, branching into a manifold of other disciplines. For example, touchscreen displays, wearable devices, and non-contact mid-air haptic displays have been capturing the attention of researchers working in entertainment, gaming, healthcare, education, data perceptualization, art, robotics, remote collaboration, and many other areas.

The Haptics Helix is an international Open Innovation community of specialists in haptics and related disciplines and is expected to host more than 100 relevant organisations, academic institutions, and businesses. The Helix was launched as a focus for impact and dissemination in support of the TOUCHLESS project's ambition to foster a collaborative ecosystem made up of key stakeholders, i.e., 1) the scientific community; 2) the European industrial sector; and 3) the general public and policy makers.

Key Project: Touchless

“Touchless Haptic Experiences with Neurocognitive AI” (TOUCHLESS) is a Horizon 2020 project that aims to go beyond functional haptic technology and enable computer systems to intelligently create the experiences that were previously lost in the virtual transition; a gap recently magnified by social distancing measures due to COVID-19 and remote working. TOUCHLESS is an interdisciplinary, intersectoral and international consortium, formed by 6 partners, including 3 universities and 3 industrial partners from 5 countries, with recognized expertise in the fields of physics, electrical engineering, social computing, psychology and philosophy. The consortium will combine the use of mid-air haptics (e.g., as produced by focusing ultrasound waves), neurocognitive models of haptic-mediated experiences and novel hybrid artificial intelligence (AI) frameworks to emulate virtual social touch interactions that are rich in agency, bonding and attachment.

The TOUCHLESS project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 101017746 🇪🇺

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