Haptics in Hand at TGM 2014

Haptic technology was a tangible component of TGM. Haptics presentations were offered by Tactus Technology, Novasentis, Aito, and Tangible Haptics. Tactus Technology continues its push toward a product launch with its manufacturing partner Wystron and is claiming product “traction in multiple markets: smartphones, tablets, and laptops”. The images show several examples of the implementation of the Tactus dynamic tactile user interface adapted for smartphone, tablet and other keyboard applications.

The concluding slide in Tactus CTO Micah Yairi’s slide deck was titled “Coming Q1 2015,” so the wait for the first commercial introduction of the Tactus technology may be drawing to a close.

Yairi’s talk included an informative discussion of the physiological basis for the human touch sense and how it relates to the Tactus tactile user interface. Of most interest to me were new data on “Comparative Usability Testing” commissioned from a third party by Tactus that presented the results of an apparent focus group user preference study of iPad Mini tablets both with and without the Tactus Keyboard Overlay. The results of the study found that by over a 2:1 margin users preferred the Tactus equipped iPad Mini as compared to the regular iPad Mini.

Greg Topel CEO of Tangible Haptics presented a talk with an apt title, “Shaking out the Future of Haptics”. In his presentation, Topel made the point that: “Touch calls up feelings, memories, and associations that help us to understand the world. It adds dimension to our relationships, our work, education, and entertainment. It influences our responses, our beliefs”. He then went on to point out that applications today are mostly vibration-based and passive and that while vibration can be used for a range of purposes, true interaction is active.

The speaker pointed out that touch comes in various forms including vibrotactile, form changing, friction modulation, force modulation and temperature variation. Tangible Haptics’ website states that the firm’s technology “provides a set of techniques for controlling the in-plane forces experienced by a fingertip as a programmable function of the finger’s motion. The in-plane forces arise from friction, and our techniques allow friction to be increased, decreased, even reversed or redirected”. Although the speaker did not elaborate concerning specific nearer term product applications, this firm, which is a spin-off of Northwestern University, should be interesting to track in future.

Aito is another spin-off firm, this time from Nokia. Peter Kurstjens of Aito presented on Feelware for User Interfaces. Aito’s technology appears to be well-developed and ready for application to bring piezo-based haptic feedback to a wide range of products.

Finally, Linda Chan of Novasentis presented on the application of the firm’s Electro Mechanical Polymer (EMP) haptic transducer technology to wearable products. Novasentis emphasizes that characteristics of the firm’s actuators – ultra-thin and flexible, have sensing capability, can act as speakers and are robust and durable – make the EMP actuators very suitable for wearable applications. With the availability of more mature piezo and now EMP actuators, haptic interface equipped products may be reaching our hands sooner rather than later. – Phil Wright