There’s nothing like the feeling of holding a hot mug of tea on a chilly fall day—the heat that radiates through the ceramic, the weight of the mug which carries with it the knowledge you have something that will warm you from the inside out. Now, that same feeling can be achieved virtually. Electronics company ALPS has created a virtual cup that, using haptic technology and heat transmission, recreates the feelings of holding a mug of tea or a plastic cup of cold water, no actual liquid involved. Although the lack of virtual tea taste seems cruel, the innovation could mean a lot in the field of haptics, a.k.a. the science of touch.
The virtual cup of tea is the size of a typical tumbler and is covered in sensors that are able to transmit the same tensile strength as a ceramic mug and the exact temperature of hot tea to your hand. (Engadget’s Mat Smith tried it out, reporting that the virtual tea was just hot enough to startle him as it was virtually poured into the virtual mug.) As you tilt the cup, you will feel the weight of the “tea” shift and hear it slosh from side to side. If it’s a plastic cup you are meant to be holding, you’ll feel the sides of the vessel give way as you squeeze.
You may wonder, what good is the experience of holding a cup of tea without the actual stuff? Haptics can be used to advance prosthetics, but video games are the more common beneficiary of the tech. At its most basic, haptics is responsible for the buzz of the video game controller as your Yoshi crashes into Bowser at Peach Beach. But these are modern times and as technology advances, a mug of tea is just one of the tactile experiences that can now be recreated virtually. Might we suggest replicating the exact give of a Montreal bagel, or perhaps, for those that missed out this morning, an entire virtual reality recreation of a visit to Luke’s? We'll be waiting, with actual tea in hand.