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Concept video game controller takes haptic feedback to the next level

University Utah Tactor ControllerMany games controllers feature haptic feedback in the form of vibration, or if you’re using a steering wheel some kind of force feedback, to give the impression of weight and to provide a more complete sensory experience. At the University of Utah, engineers are developing what could be the next step in providing realistic feedback through games controllers, and this time it’s embedded in the joystick itself.

Think of a PlayStation or Xbox controller’s analog sticks, and then imagine that inside is a small moving part, not unlike the thumb-controlled pointing stick found on various laptops. The movement of the sticks — which they call “tactors” — then corresponds with the on-screen action, and can be felt through the thumb as it tugs in different directions.

For example, if you fire a gun they twitch back and forward to mimic the weapon’s recoil, or they sway to convey the movement of the sea if you’re on a boat. The team has written a fishing game with which to test the system, and here the tactors help identify which way a hooked fish is pulling.

While gaming is the obvious application for this type of haptic technology, it’s also being linked to situations where tactile feedback could be used to compliment audible alerts, such as indicating direction through a steering wheel when used in conjunction with GPS navigation instructions.

One of the professors working on the project says he hopes to have the controller production-ready in time for the next generation of consoles, and he also mentions the possibility of making a version for smartphones too, not unlike systems such as the iControlPad.

Of course, the success of this type of technology depends on there being plenty of games which support it, therefore the controller will be making an appearance at this week’s Game Developers Conference in San Francisco too.

Additionally, the BBC reports the concept has been pitched to several console manufacturers including Microsoft and that if adopted, the technology’s license would add around $15 to the price of a regular controller.