Emerging Technology – Haptic display technology has long been in discussion and solutions have so far fallen short of expectations. In an interview with Dr. Christophe Ramstein, President and CEO of Novasentis we explored how far away haptic displays are from the real world of consumer electronics.
Novasentis (formerly Strategic Polymer Sciences, Inc.) is a US based company (founded in 2006) developing haptic feedback sensors for flat panel displays and other applications. Haptic feedback is the ability of a flat surface to respond to electric impulses by deformation or vibration.
There are several ways to achieve such a response and Novasentis is working with electromechanical polymers (EMP) to achieve this goal. It competes with piezoceramics and other dielectric polymers. While piezoceramics can create significant force under an applied voltage it shows very little elongation. On the other hand, other dielectric polymers achieve large elongation but produce very little force. The EMP material is designed to achieve an in between behavior with reasonable force creation and good elongation.
Novasentis has developed a material that enables thin actuators with an overall thickness of 120 μm to 150 μm. The product the company has currently developed is the clic 1010. The ‘1010’ refers to the physical dimension of 10 mm by 10 mm. Of course, the dimensions can be changed to allow for other sizes as well as shapes.
The EMP material is able to create not only deformation but also haptic feedback in terms of vibration or even sound. The company can drive the material up to 20 kHz which allows it to create a simple speaker through a flexible substrate. This may not be good for HiFi sound, but it is certainly good enough for simple sounds.
For more information on what the technology can do, take a look at the following video.
The technology works through rearranging the molecular structure causing the observed elongation. This also means that the material has a form of a memory effect as it does not immediately turn back to its normal state after the voltage is removed. In order to have a vibration mode, the material has to be driven in an AC mode to switch the elongation direction. Once the material is elongated it requires much less power to keep the material in that state. This allows for a number of applications that are currently not addressed by Novasentis. In addition, the material will deform in both directions in DC mode and works also as a sensor if pressed by the user.
The power demand is similar to other technologies, drawing about 0.3 W to 1 W for the vibration function.
The current discrete clic device is based on a laminate design. This allows for flat and very thin actuators that are perfectly suited to realize a haptic keyboard for applications where the keyboard thickness is 4mm or less. In this case a mechanical system with a switch does not allow for enough travel to realize good feedback. Thin keyboards are the first consumer product Novasentis is addressing with its technology.
Novasentis is seeing the next generation of actuators being realized on shaped surface to allow feedback in automotive applications like switches that are completely flat when not triggered.
The third generation will be incorporating the technology in touch screens for consumer devices from mobile to wearables.
Even though Novasentis makes the underlying material, the business model is based on selling finished actuators rather than materials. The company has roughly 30 patents issued and pending to protect not only the material but also the process, device manufacturing and the use in applications.
The current production capacity is about 150k per year, a number that Novasentis is planning on increasing to 10 million per year by the end of 2014. This will allow the company to supply some low volume products in non CE markets. By the end of 2015 Novasentis wants to ramp production to 100 million per year, enough to address the CE market. While it did not discus pricing, the company stated that by the end of 2015 it will be competitive with other haptic technology solutions. – Norbert Hildebrand