The Piezo differentiator
Siegel said this enabled precision actuation for high-definition haptics, with a fair number of advantages over rival haptic technologies like Eccentric Rotating Mass (ERM) and Linear Resonant Actuator (LRA), including faster response times, higher bandwidth and a wider possible range of effects.
These effects, said Siegel, could be used by device makers as a differentiator when it came to building a tactile experience around gaming, messaging and playing virtual instruments.
Eventually, he said, it could also lead to being able to simulate the feeling of pressing actual buttons, sliding one’s finger through water or touching a fabric through one’s phone.
“Seeing how far you could go and what you can achieve with Piezo is surprising,” said Siegel explaining how the science of haptics could actually be divided into three separate components; mechanical design, electrical design and software integration.
In terms of the mechanical design, the actuator has to be selected and fitted to the device to maximize mechanical coupling and vibration. The electric design consists of the driver and is the interface between the processor and the actuator. The software generates the haptics waveforms and connects the user interface (touch screen, buttons, etc.) to the haptics system. The software resides on a processor or microcontroller.
There’s also a certain elegance to TI’s Piezo design, said Siegel, because unlike many other haptic technologies, it is almost silent, without any audible buzz.
That said, Siegel wouldn’t be drawn into talking down his firm’s haptic competitors, noting “the only people who are doing it wrong are the people who aren’t doing it.”
Prices, he said, had been steadily decreasing in the haptics space, and indeed, TI’s Piezo haptic driver costs something in the region of $3, depending on volume, for the entire solution.
There’s still some way to go, however, and other technologies emerging that might change the way the industry feels about haptics. One example is the rise of tactus technology, which actually morphs physical screens by having a liquid layer underneath.
Siegel couldn’t say whether tactus may play a part in TI’s future, but one thing was abundantly clear; with touch screens rapidly replacing traditional user interfaces, taking touch back into our own hands will be increasingly important.