What Is Haptic Feedback?

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Your sense of touch provides valuable information about the world around you, and haptics mimic these experiences. Discover what is haptic feedback and learn more about the technology that helps you feel physical sensations in virtual worlds.

[Featured Image] A woman smiles while experiencing haptic feedback while using her smartphone.

If you've played a racing video game and felt the controller vibrate when your vehicle rolled the track, you've experienced haptic feedback. Derived from the Greek word for "touch," this technology allows developers to incorporate the sense of touch into their simulation systems, which enhances the user experience. Additional haptic feedback examples include the sensations you feel when tapping your smartphone's keyboard and using surgical training simulators.

The field is growing rapidly worldwide, particularly in developing portable devices, wearables, automotive displays, and medical equipment. Analysts expect the market for haptic technology to surpass $5 billion by 2028 [1]. If you are currently working or pursuing a career in engineering, industrial design, or product development, you will likely encounter projects that involve haptic technology. 

What does haptic feedback do?

Haptic feedback connects what you see on a screen to what you feel in your body, making a virtual experience multi-dimensional. It imitates how your body responds to the world around you by giving you a tactile response. Sometimes, you feel this as a vibration in your body, or you may feel air pressure, resistance, or heat.

For example, you may notice a vibrating sensation when you type on your tablet's or smartphone's digital keyboard. This sensation mimics the resistance you feel when typing on a traditional keyboard, which can help you type faster when using the device. Researchers have noted that the physical sensation is more helpful for users than an auditory cue.

Types of haptic feedback

Developers and designers use several types of haptic feedback, which fall into two broad categories: kinesthetic and tactile. Within those categories, you can find additional types, including electrostimulation, vibration, and passive haptic feedback. Developers choose the haptics that best mimic the experience they want to recreate. Here's how they compare.


Kinesthetic haptics allow you to sense size, force, and intensity. For example, you may notice more resistance in a video game controller or steering wheel device when your character uses a heavier vehicle. To compensate, you have to use more force to move the vehicle through the virtual world. Passive kinesthetic haptics typically involve increased resistance. Active kinesthetic haptics tend to make movement easier.


Tactile haptic feedback uses vibrations to help you feel textures and similar cues. In fact, vibration (also called vibrotactile feedback) is one of the best-known forms of haptics, and you find it available in wearables, video game controllers, and more. Thermal haptics are a type of tactile feedback that allows you to sense temperature. Unlike other haptic feedback types, developers tend to use thermal feedback less frequently—perhaps because it uses more energy. However, you will find it in virtual reality systems.

What is haptic feedback used for?

You rely on haptic feedback in your daily activities, like letting your food cool before eating or walking outside to decide whether you need to bring a jacket. Researchers in Canada noted that blindfolded people can identify the types of surfaces they're walking on because of how the surface materials feel under their feet [2].  

Engineers and developers use technology to recreate these sensations. Haptic feedback enhances your experience when using a product by making your interactions more engaging and intuitive. This technology is essential in virtual worlds, allowing you to sense shape, force, and temperature, similar to how you experience the natural world around you.

In the medical field, haptic feedback makes it possible to examine patients remotely and perform robot-assisted surgery—which tends to have fewer surgery-related complications and shorter hospital stays. Surgical training simulators incorporate haptic feedback to create a realistic experience for you to learn the process of a specific surgery or practice in a safe environment. In many cases, this improves the quality of your work when you perform the procedure with patients.

Haptic feedback examples

You can find haptic feedback examples in multiple industries, including health care, software development, and research. The following list highlights examples of how this technology works in different fields.

  • Anesthesiologists can practice the procedure using medical simulators, such as epidural simulators. 

  • Users receive notifications from devices, such as a warning vibration, before they delete an app on a smartphone or tablet.

  • Doctors use robotic surgical systems to distinguish between infected and healthy tissues during surgery.

  • Surgeons can train on surgical simulators to practice procedures like joint replacements and hysterectomies. 

  • Players can use video game controllers, like Sony's DualSense controller to feel explosions, surface changes, and contact with other characters in the game.

  • Surgeons and other health care professionals can use virtual reality surgical trainers, such as Osso VR, to practice procedures in a virtual reality setting. 

Who uses haptic feedback?

Healthcare professionals, teachers, and researchers may use haptic feedback when learning how to perform procedures, researching new applications for the technology, or teaching others how to use it. The technology also allows doctors to gather data when palpating patients during a routine exam. Scientists, engineers, and developers may incorporate haptics in the design of new products, including simulators, video games, and virtual reality.

These careers tend to be lucrative, and growing interest in haptics applications means you should find openings in related fields. The following list shows the median annual salary you could earn in one of these roles:

  • AR/VR developer: $115,334 [3]

  • Medical engineer: $80,070 [4]

  • Robotics engineer: $106,894 [5]

  • Software engineer: $114,523 [6]

  • Video game developer: $99,805 [7]

Pros and cons of using haptic feedback

The pros and cons of using haptic feedback include increased engagement, improved surgical outcomes, and decreased human interaction. Haptic technology makes a virtual world feel more realistic, creating opportunities to practice activities and perform procedures in a space that doesn't endanger lives. In the medical field, equipment incorporating haptics may help facilities deal with staff shortages by allowing doctors to complete some tasks remotely. Haptic feedback in vehicles can help drivers of all ages pay more attention to the road and reduce the risk of an accident. 

Haptics also present some challenges. Too much sensory feedback can distract drivers on the road, increasing the risk of an accident. Medical and surgical simulators are great training tools, but they need to accurately mimic the experience of touching and manipulating human tissue so the experience is realistic. The amount of research and development required to produce quality haptic feedback can increase the cost of these devices, making them unaffordable for some facilities and practitioners—even if they want to use them.

How to get started in haptic feedback

To get started in haptic feedback, learn to code. Whether you pursue a career in robotics, medical equipment manufacturing, or software development, you need to know how to write code. Start with a popular language like C++, Python, Java, or JavaScript. You may find it helpful to earn a computer science or engineering degree. You will learn about the field and have opportunities to apply the knowledge and work on projects to continue developing your skills. You can add these projects to your portfolio to share with potential employers and show them the quality of your work.

Getting started with Coursera

Start exploring the uses of haptic feedback by learning more about virtual reality. In Introduction to Virtual Reality from the University of London, you can examine the history and applications of VR. This course is part of the school's Virtual Reality Specialization, available on Coursera. In your final project, you'll apply what you've learned and create your own virtual reality game.

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