Haptics – Update #2

I wrote about Haptics (and glass screens) sometime ago and it’s time to revisit this topic. Not that a sea of change has occurred since then, but some new interesting companies have recently come out with some cool announcements that at some point in the near future will impact your tactile senses, if not alreadyIt must be noted that a good number of companies engaged in Haptics are private or are University based skunk works. So, it’s tough to get much detail except for crumbs that one can gather up in the WWW.

Handily Haptics!

In June this year, Gartner named Senseg, a Helsinki based Haptics startup as ‘Cool Vendor 2011’. Until recently, I had no clue that Gartner has such cool characterizations of companies. Apparently, this is a prestigious title and Senseg is wearing it proudly! Senseg is developing technology that allows us to feel textures on glass interfaces. For example, it will allow users to discern the feel of textile material such as silk, corduroy or even flannel. Senseg’s E-Sense technology apparently makes use of a patented electro-sensory phenom that replicates the feel of touch by means of stimulating “Tixels” (or Tactile Pixels) using tiny amounts of electrical charges which in turn generates a controlled electric field that extends a few millimeters above the glass or screen surface. And they do this without the use of vibration or mechanical actuators such as motors, piezoelectric actuators or electro-active polymers.

Then there’s the Bay Area based startup, Tactus Technologies, that has developed technology that will basically grow a keyboard out of the glass surface. For example, when you are texting, a keyboard will rise from the surface of the  screen allowing you to essentially feel the edges of the keys. Similarly, if you are playing a game, controller knobs and buttons will emerge from the screen. Now that is cool!

If you are looking for actuators on steroids, look no further than ViviTouch’s latest offering. It’s basically as souped up iTouch with all the haptics bells and whistles. Using their proprietary actuator technology ViviTouch has been able to replicate motions, sounds, vibrations etc that holds true to their tag line ‘Feel The Game ™’. Check out this video for a little self-promo (by ViviTouch) on this technology..

As our interaction with our smartphones increases, so do the multitude of haptic possibilities. Here are some additional examples of what haptics has in store for us. Mind you, all of this happening on a glass surface.

  1. Key press – Allows for us to feel the edges of keys on a keyboard (Tactus Technologies). I can already feel my lousy glass typing skills improve :).
  2. Slider – Allows for us to feel the friction as one moves the control toggle. Think potentiometer! Potential application – turning on your car air-conditioning and adjusting the car temperature as you leave the grocery store in say Phoenix, AZ. Will prevent you and your family from the initial quick ‘car-roast’!
  3. Click Wheel – As you rotate the wheel with your thumb and forefinger, you’ll feel the individual clicks akin to the volume control on your car radio.
  4. Gaming – This is a big one and will help take haptics to new heights. This will be the domain of ‘Extreme Haptics’ with all kinds of features incorporated into smartphones – think ViviTouch!

Market research agency ARCcharts estimates that by 2015, 60% of smartphone will have haptics of some kind incorporated into their designs. So, haptics is in for a bright future and in my next update, I’ll delve more deeper into this topic. In the meantime, would you want to share some of your haptic experiences?

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