Eyefinity, 3D video, surround sound, and the rumble pack, to name a few technologies, all exist to make a game environment seem more real to a player. Now when you hear a shot to your side you can turn your head to a second monitor to see the shooter in 3D, and if a bullet hits, your hands will shake from the impact. Having been shot you may duck and crawl along the ground to cover. Now researchers at the University of Utah are working on a haptic technology to make even that more realistic.
Inside the thumb-sticks of a prototype controller the researchers have built, are tractors with rubber tips, similar to the well-known IBM TrackPoint. These tractors can be moved around, just like the thumb-sticks, but instead of the player moving them, the controller moves them. While your avatar crawls along the ground for cover, the tractors move in asynchronous half-circles to simulate the actual experience. If you run into a wall then, the tractors will jerk back from the impact, and when a grenade goes off near you, they will move even more violently from the explosion.
Though the prototype controller is similar in appearance to a modern console controller, we cannot expect this technology to be in the market before the next wave of consoles are released. Work still has to be done to ensure this technology plays well with other feedback systems, such as vibrations and the video.