Haptic technology is becoming common in tech news headlines. It is being used, for example, in the Apple Watch and in the upcoming iPhone 6S.
However, it will be used beyond consumer electronics as well. Soon, an astronaut on the International Space Station will attempt to control a robot on Earth using force feedback from onboard the ISS.
The astronaut is Andreas Mogensen, who is set to arrive at the ISS in a matter of days. He is a member of the European Space Agency Telerobotics and Haptics Laboratory and is experimenting with a new rover called Interact Centaur, which has two robotic arms that offer feedback to the operator of the robot in real-time.
Eventually, the team would like to send a rover to Mars and be able to control the robot from a spacecraft in orbit of Mars without having to land.
"Mars is much too far for direct remote control from Earth, but flying astronauts around the planet would overcome the problem of time delay, extending human intelligence and intuition to planetary exploration without the danger and expense of landing," said the European Space Agency last year.
The first test of the new control system will take place in early September, and Mogensen will carry out a very precise mission on Earth using force-feedback from the International Space Station. This will allow him to feel exactly what the robot is feeling.
Force feedback is a concept that has been difficult to master ever since the early days of robotics. The concept is essentially that, without being able to feel what the robot is touching or holding, the operator of the robot has to rely on sight. This can cause a lot of problems, especially when it comes to things like fragile objects.
In the future, being able to remotely control robots through haptic technology could be a massive advantage. It could help humans have a much better understanding of the surface of particular planets, and it is far safer than landing and re-launching an astronaut.