“Haptic” technology. Even car buyers who are savvy to all the connectivity advancements that are pouring into today’s new cars may scratch their heads over this term. But it’s one you’re going to want to get to know.

Haptic technology allows you to feel your touch screen. Photo courtesy of General Motors

Haptic Technology—What It Is and What It Promises

So what is haptic technology? Simply put, it’s an emerging technology that allows you to actually feel the buttons that are visible on the touch screen and touchpad in your car. Of course, many newer cars and SUVs have touch screens in them. Even if yours doesn’t, you may have seen them or read about them. Properly organized, they’re great drivers’ aids. They literally put your music, navigation, phone, email and more right at your fingertips. But there’s one big problem. You have to look away from the road to use the screen.  

Consequently, carmakers today often pair touch screens with physical knobs and buttons that drivers can use to perform common functions such as changing a radio station or adjusting the audio volume. Ideally, you can do this without looking away from the road. Using your sense of touch, you can find these knobs and buttons without looking, then manipulate them to find the app or tool or music you desire.

Haptic technology promises to bring this sense of touch to your infotainment system’s touch screen. It does this by giving you the ability to feel shapes, edges and textures through your touch screen so you “feel” the items on your screen the same way you feel a physical knob or button.

Haptic Technology Today—Buzz Me

Unfortunately, the ability to feel what’s in your touch screen isn’t widely available yet. Still, a more basic form of haptic technology is used in some vehicles. Think of it as a mild joy buzzer for your touch screen.

When you touch a screen today to launch an app on your iPhone or change the radio station through your car's touch screen, the only way you know if the command has been accepted is for the app to launch or the station to change. With haptic technology, your finger will feel a small vibration indicating that the command has been received and is being processed. This technology is available currently in the Cadillac XTS and Cadillac CTS, to name but two vehicles.

Haptics, however, aren’t limited to touch screens.

The Chevrolet Tahoe is one vehicle that uses haptic technology in the driver’s seat. Tied to the SUV’s lane assist feature, the driver’s seat will vibrate if the Tahoe comes too close to crossing the lane.

The Future

As the use of touch screens accelerates, haptic technology will likely follow suit. There’s a long way to go before we see haptic technology standard in most cars. But as options, look for the number of carmakers using haptics to grow. 

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