Nowadays, you'll find subtle haptic effects to replace the clicking feel of buttons and scrolling wheels in high-end consumer applications, such as in the cockpit of Mercedes Benz's latest 2014 C-Class model BR205, where the overall HMI can be controlled through a central pad with no moving parts.
The smooth, curved touchpad developed by Continental combines a capacitive touchpad overlay and proximity light sensors for finger detection, and built-in coils that vibrate the assembly.
The haptic feedback characteristics can be tuned in a wide range by varying the position and force level for the "press" state and the length of the haptic pulse profile.
Targeting high-end white appliances and medical equipment, Aito offers so-called Software Enhanced Piezo technology, combining piezoelectric sensing and a feedback loop processed through the dedicated AitoChip to drive the thin piezo-actuators stacked underneath the user interface.
Because it is a very low-cost and highly reliable solution (no moving parts), Aito's CEO Rene de Vries hopes his solution will become an industry standard, enabling the comforting click-feel of mechanical switches even through the toughest steel, glass, or ceramic casings (not excluding plastic or wood). The company has even set up a web portal, http://sep-touch.org/, to foster a community of software developers and technology partners around its Aito chip.
"Now we are too small a company to approach the automotive market, but as we get more visibility, I am sure that automakers would see the benefit of our technology," de Vries told us, claiming that his piezoelectric solution is much more cost effective and simpler to implement than coil-based solutions.