Haptics: Tactile feedback technology enhances touchscreens

TouchSense tactile feedback for portable devices provides confirming tactile response to user touchscreen interactions.

By Control Engineering Staff June 14, 2007

San Jose, CA– As any gamer can tell you, tactile feedback provides unmistakable confirmation for users of electronics. Haptics research shows that tactile feedback in the human-machine interface (HMI) provides quantifiable benefits in terms of efficiency, error rate, and user satisfaction. Building on its more than 600 patents in the field, Immersion Corp. announced TouchSense tactile feedback for portable devices at the Society for Information Display Conference here. The technology, which provides confirming tactile response to user touchscreen interactions, can be licensed by machine builders and system integrators and embedded in mobile data terminals, test equipment, and remote controls.Tactile feedback solves a number of problems associated with operating small touchscreen devices:

In portable devices, small onscreen controls can be obscured by fingersIn direct sunlight, graphical changes cannot be seen clearlyIn noisy environments, sound cues cannot be heard wellIn quiet environments, audible cues may be inappropriateIn distractive environments, the user can’t always be looking at the screen

But with tactile cues, which can also be synchronized with audible and visual prompts, these usability problems can be minimized.”Because of their intuitive operation, software flexibility, and space and cost savings, touchscreens have been steadily gaining favor over keypads,” says Mark Belinsky, vice president and general manager of Immersion’s Mobility and Gaming group. “And though touchscreens offer many benefits, the loss of tactile feedback when a user makes an onscreen selection can create usability problems. TouchSense technology helps solve these problems and supplies a new and unique feature that people like — and a powerful differentiator.”Belinsky says research findings show that a significant quantity of information can be conveyed through touch, not just simple notifications. “The touch channel may be particularly well suited for providing particular types of information: private, immediate, dynamic, and confirming. And touch has been found to provide a highly effective secondary channel that supports peripheral or subconscious communications, leaving the other senses better able to focus on primary tasks,” he says.In addition, he adds, several studies show that users strongly prefer tactile feedback in the HMI — because it helps improve their performance and makes them feel more in control.How the system worksImmersion’s TouchSense system works with touchscreens up to about 15 cm (6 in) diagonal, or 7 ounces, and is compatible with a wide range of commercial touchscreen-sensing technologies. Immersion also supplies similar technology for larger touchscreen designs.Comprising circuit and mechanical specifications, firmware, APIs, and vibration, or tactile “effect” libraries, TouchSense technology provides high-speed control over a small electromechanical actuator, like those in mobile phones.Using the TouchSense API, the portable device’s software application is programmed to respond to touch input by making calls to the TouchSense executable, running in the background on the host processor. The executable generates signals through the Immersion-specified drive circuit, which controls the vibrations of the actuator, mounted to the side or rear of the device’s display. These finely tuned vibrations create sensations that can feel to the user like a button press or release.Immersion’s industrial controls also include the PR-1000 TouchSense Programmable Rotary Module , a design tool for touch screen user interfaces, and Wheel Electronics, software that simulates realistic forces for virtual simulation.Founded in 1993, Immersion Corp. also provides range of advanced touch feedback technology to the automotive, entertainment, medical training, mobility, and three-dimensional simulation markets. The company’s “Value of Haptics” report is a summary of recent published findings on the benefits of haptic feedback in human-computer interaction.

–Renee Robbins, editorial director, Control Engineering renee.robbins@reedbusiness.com