Humans are rather emotional creatures. We rely heavily on our five senses to interact with the world around us, drinking things in with our eyes, ears, nose and mouth. We’re also a touchy-feely bunch, and it turns out, we’re really quite fond of pushing buttons. It’s that whole tactile feeling.
The problem is, with technology trying to digitize everything, the human sense of touch is literally being taken out of our hands, as we all swipe at tiny screens with no texture. But not if the haptic pushers have their way.
Haptics is a technology that provides mechanical feedback through the use of vibrations to simulate specific events, surfaces and effects through a screen.
Humans naturally perceive surfaces and pressure through a set of somatic sensors under the skin, which literally gives us our “sense of touch.” Human tactile sensitivity ranges from 1 – 1000 Hz, but is most sensitive under ~300 Hz.
As it turns out, however, the same effect of moving your finger across a surface can also be achieved by moving the surface beneath your finger, and that’s what haptics is all about.
Haptics can simulate different surfaces and effects by varying the shape, frequency, amplitude, duration and direction of a vibration, which is then picked up by the sensors in human skin and interpreted by the brain. Get the vibration and frequency right, and you can simulate the “feeling” of almost anything.
Speaking at a company technology day in San Jose this week, Eric Siegel, touch business development manager at Texas Instruments, said that studies showed that haptics not only improved typing efficiency, but also gave people the emotional satisfaction of tactile feedback that is pleasing to our brains.
“We’re retrofitting the tech environment to incorporate touch,” he explained, noting that making technology more tactile was really just another avenue of communication that hasn’t been utilized.
“If you touch it or it touches you, it can use haptics,” he said, explaining that this held true for a plethora of consumer devices from personal navigation systems to home automation, cameras, printers and more.
TI started working on haptics about two years ago, and since then, the unit has come up with a product known as the Piezo, an tiny actuator between 0.5mm and 3mm in size that creates vibrations by attaching directly to the screen or by using a mass, either “localized” or “whole-body” vibration.
When a voltage is applied, piezo-electric material quickly moves some distance, with a response time of less than 1ms, without the use of magnetic fields.