The technological growth in the last years have conducted to the development of virtual reality (VR) systems able to immerse the user into a three-dimensional (3D) virtual environment where the user can interact in real time with virtual objects. This interaction is mainly based on visualizing the virtual environment and objects. However, with the recent beginning of haptic systems, the interaction with the virtual world has been extended to also feel, touch and manipulate virtual objects. Virtual reality has been successfully used in the development of applications in different scientific areas ranging from basic sciences, social science, education and entertainment. On the other hand, the use of haptics has increased in the last decade in domains from sciences and engineering to art and entertainment. Despite many developments, there is still relatively little knowledge about the confluence of software, enabling hardware, visual and haptic representations, to enable the conditions that best provide for an immersive sensory environment to convey information about a particular subject domain.
In this paper, the state of the art of the research work regarding virtual reality and haptic technologies carried out by the authors in the last years is presented. The aim is to evidence the potential use of these technologies to develop usable systems for analysis and simulation in different areas of knowledge. The development of three different systems in the areas of engineering, medicine and art is presented. In the area of engineering, a system for the planning, evaluation and training of assembly and manufacturing tasks has been developed. The system, named as HAMS (Haptic Assembly and Manufacturing System), is able to simulate assembly tasks of complex components with force feedback provided by the haptic device. On the other hand, in the area of medicine, a surgical simulator for planning and training orthognathic surgeries has been developed. The system, named as VOSS (Virtual Osteotomy Simulator System), allows the realization of virtual osteotomies with force feedback. Finally, in the area of art, an interactive cinema system for blind people has been developed. The system is able to play a 3D virtual movie for the blind user to listen to and touch by means of the haptic device. The development of these applications and the results obtained from these developments are presented and discussed in this paper.