Haptic technology (touch-based computing) is quietly creeping into nearly every aspect of our electronic lives — from simple touch screens at the ATM or grocery store to the iPhone's now ubiquitous multi-touch display. But its clear from the IEEE's 2010 Haptics Symposium last week in Massachusetts that Haptics are about to take a quantum leap in sophistication and may soon give us the ability to simulate virtual realities indoors. 

Researchers from McGill University developed a prototype of a floor panel made of deformable screens which can sense the pressure applied by your foot. In realtime, the computer that powers the display on the floor responds to the speed at which you walk. Watch the video on the MIT Technology Review blog ... it's nothing short of mind-blowing. If you walk carefully on the simulated ice sheet, the ice won't crack, but if you are reckless the display creates the sensation of the ice breaking underfoot.

Since the ground on which we walk is our primary orientation device, the haptic floor opens up the possibility of creating immersive virtual realities — deserts with sand underfoot, forests with crackling leaves, mountains with snow crunching underfoot, etc. Remember the "Star Trek" holodeck? Science fiction may be closer than we think, and the digital gaming industry I'm sure has this one on their radar.

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