Realistic tactile experiences for intuitive wearable devices

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Popular social networking sites enable friends to maintain closer communication. Live feeds of an event can be sent to friends through video sharing so that the receivers can feel that they are there themselves. However, sharing only visual and audio content is no longer enough. If you can send tactile sensations to your friends as well, it can enhance the personal connections and experience. How do you transmit live feeds to others and allow them to have a sense of real presence through the tactile sensation? Let us ask the haptic technology experts to share their research results with us.

The new specialized haptic technology provides the most realistic contact

Roger Wang, Taiwan Country Manager of Immersion Corporation, gave a speech entitled "Creating a More Engaging & Intuitive Mobile Experiences in User-Created Video and Wearables." Wang indicated that since his company was founded two decades ago, it has been conducting research and developing products in the areas of force feedback, motion and tactile effects. The number of patents already obtained and currently being reviewed totals more than 1,650. At present, the main products provide tactile solutions to enable mobile devices that can playback realistic tactile feelings driven by Immersion's software. These technologies have already been adopted in the mobile device, automotive, gaming, medical, and consumer electronics sectors.

The mobile device-dedicated proprietary tactile software, TouchSense, has already been built into more than 800 million mobile phones. The embedded software can produce high-quality tactile responses by using very little power to have the motor create vibrations. It transcends the traditional "visual" enjoyment by adding the "tactile" sensations. Wang indicated that touch is a critical part of human experiences. It is part of our everyday life, and we hope that the mobile devices that we use every day can be equipped with such everyday life experiences as well.

The tactile enhances user experiences

Immersion's own surveys on users and various academic studies have found that the people who have used tactile-feedback touchscreens and non-tactile-feedback touchscreens felt that the former ones were easier to use, worked better, were more reliable and more responsive. It lets you know you have touched something, as if you have pressed a real button. The multiple UI sensory expressions (auditory + visual + tactile) will improve the users' experiences.

Wang indicated that Immersion's haptic (or tactile feedback) technology can recreate realistic human sensations. Using real-world tactile sensations to the users can increase their sense of trust, change how they feel, and transfer emotions on a personal level. In terms of mobile and wearable devices, this technology can provide a better connection and confirmation to enrich communications between people. In terms of opening up opportunities for innovative design, the technology provides UI and program design tools for creating special tactile effects. It allows OEMs, telecom carriers, content and social media services providers to work with Immersion to design advanced user experiences.

Content + Tactile effects = The most realistic feelings

In today's mobile and wearable devices, creating a corresponding tactile experience on a shared piece of content and enabling the content receivers to feel as if they are on the scene are feats that can be achieved using the haptic technology. Wang used a demonstration video to illustrate the tactile applications. First, the company's TouchEffects Studio software can add tactile effects into your video. For example, when a skateboarder does a kick flip in a skateboarding video, the "Pow" haptic layered effects can be added to strengthen the shared content. When another party receives your shared content, the effect can inspire empathy so that everyone can share the same auditory + visual + tactile experiences.

Then Wang played a demo video where a grandfather received a text message containing a video of his grandson. Because the grandfather does not have an unlimited 3G network access, he must watch the video by getting online through a public Wi-Fi service. He has to look for a place that has stronger Wi-Fi signals. At this time, he can know how far the Wi-Fi signals are by feeling the levels of vibration on the device, so that he can avoid the danger of having to watch the screen and walk at the same time. People living in smart homes in the future can use their smart watches or bracelets to control their home appliances such as lights, electronic curtains, and speakers with gestures; and receive feedback through tactile sensations to show whether the appliances has actually received the commands. The strength of the vibration can also represent the volume of sound, etc. Wang randomly selected several participants to personally experience the auditory + visual + tactile sensations, and those who tried it were all amazed by the fantastic and excellent immersive user experiences.

For OEMs, incorporating haptic technologies into their products not only can enhance their product differentiation on both the hardware and software sides; these technologies can also create valuable sharing experiences, encouraging consumers to continue using the products. It will drive simultaneous growths for video sharing software, applications, and platforms.

Touch designs and experiences of wearable devices

The recent buzz over wearable devices (smart watches, sports watches, smart bracelets) has inspired numerous applications such as those for text messaging, productivity, social networking, health, fitness records, biosensing, and somatosensory games. Because the wearable devices must be chic, small, and constantly connected to the Internet, some of them do not come with display screens and only use simple LED lights to display information. Tactile senses will come in handy in these cases. Through different vibration frequencies, strengths, melodies and time controls, the skin can feel the incoming of messages instantly. The consumers can privately and discreetly receive notifications, do not have to pick up a cell phone to look at the screen in order to know what types of message was received, and can achieve silent communication.

When wearable devices are being designed, factors such as energy consumption, noise, appearance, cost, and unique features must be considered. Immersion's advanced haptic technology can also enable low power consumption and quiet tactile effects, achieved by using small and inexpensive acutators that provide a variety of special responses to create unique and easily distinguishable effects. Therefore, not only can the haptic technology be adopted in text messaging, communication, fitness, health records, and other applications today; it can also be adopted in smart home controls and somatosensory games in order to refine these products even further.

Finally, during Wang's Q&A session, he stated that Immersion is a software company that has invested many years of efforts in developing haptic technology and has obtained numerous patents. Its products support Android and other operating systems as well as a host of microcontrollers (MCU). When the content is being shared, the file structures combine video files (such as MP4) and haptic data files (small-size haptic control files) in order to maintain content sharing flexibility. Its haptic technology solutions comprise pure software (equipped with comprehensive API development tools that the hardware vendors can directly incorporate and use) as well as software + hardware solutions (better tactile effect can be produced when used in conjunction with its certified amplifier IC) to provide the most comprehensive and authentic user experiences.

Roger Wang, Taiwan country manager of Immersion Corporation

Roger Wang, Taiwan country manager of Immersion Corporation