Bringing the sense of touch and feel into surgical simulations can elevate training outcomes far beyond visual and auditory cues alone. Known as haptics, these technologies that simulate tactile sensations are critical for enabling surgeons to develop muscle memory and skills that accurately mirror those used in the operating room. In virtual reality (VR) based surgical training, adding haptic feedback completes the immersive experience by allowing trainees to interact with digitally recreated anatomy and instruments as if they were real.
What Are Haptics?
Haptics refers to any technology that creates the illusion of tactile feedback and force feedback to the user when interacting in a virtual environment. Just as visual and audio input add realism and immersion to VR, haptic input completes this by engaging our sense of touch.
In our current project developing an ENT surgical training simulator using VR for SingHealth, we integrated haptic devices from Haply Robotics that allow the trainee surgeon to “feel” the anatomy they are operating on. The stylus-like haptic controller exerts forces against the user’s hand when touching or manipulating the virtual patient, emulating the feel of anatomical structures like tissue, cartilage, or bone.
The Benefits Of Haptic Feedback
This force feedback creates muscle memory and skills transferable to real surgery. It provides critical tactile and kinaesthetic information to the trainee about depth, pressure, texture that cannot be solely gained from visual cues. This helps accelerate expertise as hands-on learning engages more neurological pathways.
The difference in feeling when drilling into bone versus soft tissue contributes greatly to overall accuracy and surgical competence. As well as improving learning outcomes, the emotional feedback given by haptics makes the VR experience more engaging and realistic.
The Future Of Haptics In Healthcare
Haptic technology has evolved rapidly and we can expect even more advanced solutions that will provide unprecedented fidelity in recreating the physical sensations of surgical procedures and beyond in virtual environments. By capturing more of our senses into the virtual domain, fields like medicine can harness the power of VR simulations for superior training, planning, and even remote collaborative surgeries.
The possibilities are exciting as haptics brings the human touch to an intangible world. Both current and future surgeons will soon validate how touch feedback through tools like our ENT trainer shortcuts the path to mastering surgeries before performing on real patients.
To find out more about our work and research, get in touch or check out the rest of the Simsplainer series.