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Haptics is Evolving. Can You Feel it?

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Haptics is evolving from traditional vibrations you feel to simulated sensations.

Haptics, the technology of feeling, is expanding into new sensations and across a wide breadth of different technologies. In the past, haptics would cause vibrations in a user’s device to alert them of an incoming pager message or mobile phone call. But in the last five-years, haptic devices have expanded into other techniques that simulate virtual “feel” sensations, such as haptic feedback to simulate the feel of a button press.

These touchable changes have been made possible by improvements in the underline actuator technology. New types of actuator hardware, software drivers, and systems integration have enabled the introduction of new effects using advanced haptics.

Tech Types

Several different types of hardware are used to provide haptic feedback. The most prominent are electromagnetic actuators that dominate the market today: eccentric rotating mass (ERM) motors and linear resonant actuators (LRAs). In an ERM actuator, the eccentric rotating mass consists of a rotating electric motor with an off-center mass. As it rapidly spins, the motor is constantly displaced, which creates the feeling of vibration.

The linear resonant actuator (LRA) consists of a magnet attached to a spring, surrounded by a coil, and encased in a housing. As the electromagnetic coil is energized, the mass moves back and forth within the coil, which causes the vibration.

Other types of haptic actuator technologies include piezoelectric actuators (ceramic, composite, and polymer-based), forced impact, microfluidic systems, and others. One emerging technology known as contactless haptics doesn’t even require an actuator but rather air-jets or ultrasonic radiation to simulate the feel of actual contact. This means that the user does not have to wear gloves or hold a device to feel the simulated motion or the tactile surface.

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Touchless, interactive display control technology.

The target market for new haptic technologies includes smartphones, gaming, wearables, AR, VR & MR, and other consumer electronics markets, automotive haptics, and a variety of other applications from medical to military and more.

Latest Haptic Trends

A recent IDTechEx Research report tracks haptic technology from 2010 to the present. The resulting data trend reveals several significant challenges and opportunities for haptics. For example, smartphones remain the critical market for haptics, accounting for over 50% of the total revenue in 2020 and allowing the industry to increase sales volumes for actuators. In parallel, the launch of the PS5 with the DualSense controller in 2020 has driven a new focus towards haptics as it relates to console gaming and related interfaces state the report.

However, as volume growth in these key industries has plateaued, companies throughout the value chain are exploring new opportunities where haptics can generate additional value. For example, the adoption of haptics is occurring in the virtual reality (VR) space as well as the automotive applications for various systems from driver alerts to use in infotainment systems.

Data from the IDTechEx report reveals several significant challenges and opportunities for haptics. For example, smartphones remain the critical market for haptics, accounting for over 50% of the total revenue in 2020 and allowing the industry to rise to unprecedented sales volumes for actuators. In parallel, the launch of the PS5 with the DualSense controller in 2020 has driven a new focus towards haptics as it relates to console gaming and related interfaces.

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Historic data on the haptics market, including device sales, spend per device, percentage of devices with haptics, and haptics revenue. (Image Source: IDTechEx)

Haptic Wellness

A new category of haptic devices has emerged, thanks to the push toward wearable wellness. Several examples of this health trend were showcased at the recent CES event. One example was from Doppel, which showed a wearable device that uses haptic to help the user feel calm and focused by imitating their own heartbeat.

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Dopple wearable haptics. (Image Source: Dopple)

Doppel wearable works by creating a silent vibration on the inside of your wrist which feels just like the ‘lub-dub’ of a heartbeat, explains the website. Slower rhythms are calming, and faster rhythms help you feel focused - like music. Results showing doppel’s calming effect have been published in the journal Nature Scientific Reports.

To be successful in the long term, haptic wellness devices will need to capture biometric data, analyze it in terms of the individual user’s context, and then share the analysis with the user for consideration as well as physically through well-timed haptic effects. The future lies in the combination of AI-driven biometric analysis and advanced haptics.

John Blyler is a Design News senior editor, covering the electronics and advanced manufacturing spaces. With a BS in Engineering Physics and an MS in Electrical Engineering, he has years of hardware-software-network systems experience as an editor and engineer within the advanced manufacturing, IoT and semiconductor industries. John has co-authored books related to system engineering and electronics for IEEE, Wiley, and Elsevier.

 

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