Haptics is a very hot topic in today's technology world. The term refers to the tactile feedback effects often felt on mobile and  industrial devices, from the whole-body vibrations you feel when a cell phone rings, to more nuanced effects felt when playing a game or analyzing stats on a work console. We recently released the DRV8662, the industry's most highly integrated piezo haptic driver, and Eric Siegel, a member of our haptics marketing team, wrote an article about it for EE Times, as well as a post here on Analog Wire. You can check those out to get a quick "feel" for haptics. 

Since haptics is such a buzzworthy topic, a few weeks ago, we asked editors to submit any and all questions they had regarding the technology, whether they be ones they didn't get to ask during an interview, or maybe just something they've always been curious about. We collected the questions and passed them to our experts in the haptic design and marketing teams. In our first of a couple of posts about haptics, here are some of the questions posed by Don Tuite, analog editor at Electronic Design.

------

Q: My first question is about how much further haptics can go.  Right now, you can create a small vibration to accompany key presses, or a more sophisticated, modulated vibration to give feedback when the user's finger is "rotating" a virtual wheel. I don't do any first-person shooter games, and I haven't used a Wii, but I imagine there are other things that can be done with a larger controller to simulate the feel of a gun firing - but then I run out of practical ideas.

You may be too young to remember the original spaceship to the Moon ride at Disneyland, where the seat bottoms squashed down under your fanny to simulate acceleration and moved in the other direction to simulate weightlessness  -- and that memory leads me to think of multi-dimensional flight simulators (there's a cool one that people can try out at the Udvar-Hazy hangars of the Smithsonian, out by Dulles airport), but I don't think your engineers are going to scale their efforts in that direction*.  So,  A)  where do you think you can take haptics?  and  B) what problems need to be worked out first?

*If they are, I know a guy at NASA Ames who's involved with helicopter simulation.

--

A: Eric Siegel, Product Marketing Engineer, Touch Screen Controllers and Haptics

"Everything's up to date in Kansas City; they've gone about as fer as they can go" --Will Parker, from the musical Oklahoma!

Reading Don's question just made that song jump out, and when you look at the context of the song and when it was written (1941), and the play taking place in 1906 Oklahoma territory, it's the best answer. In short, I think haptics has a very bright future ahead. People are already demanding more than the technology can currently offer. It's hard to say what will come next, as what is cool and what someone values (or is willing to pay for that value) can be completely different things.

Unfortunately, I didn't have the pleasure of experiencing the original Disneyland ride, but I have seen some inventive young minds put haptics to use. Last year at the New York Maker Faire, I watched a girl demonstrate her very own haptics-enabled compass cap. She basically knitted a cap and wove in a band of LEDs and an ERM motor, and designed it in such a way that north would be illuminated on the cap and the ERM would be activated whenever the user is facing north - truly integrating fashion and function, all enabled with fabulous technology.  This simple idea could be applied to safety applications for the vision impaired, or could even add a different sensor for lane changing in an automotive setting.

Today, we see haptics in portable electronics and gaming systems, and I feel we will continue to see those arenas get enhanced with products. Specifically, the gaming accessory market will see haptic keyboards, mice and other peripherals start to creep in and become commonplace.

Where will haptics go in the future?  I feel the next innovation will be truly localized haptics, such that each touch point on a device can produce a different haptic effect without interfering with each other.  Currently, the popularity of whole body haptics (when the entire device shakes) is the biggest obstacle to advancing localized haptics. Future generations of devices can use a floating screen setup, but mechanically speaking. This can be a high bandwidth undertaking, so focusing on making more durable processes for this setup will be the first hurdle to overcome. Potentially, there could be micro floating screens or maybe even a MEMS section of haptic devices to help turn this dream into a reality.

Eventually, you could see haptics becoming more psychological and interacting more with how we as humans interact, even enabling material recreation. For example, recreating the feeling you get when touching an uneven surface (i.e. wood, stone, etc.). This could be a gateway to grander applications that I'm not even capable of imagining nor seeing in my lifetime, but when that day comes, "Oh What a Beautiful Mornin'" it will be.

I'm always interested to hear what other people are doing with the technology, so if any of you have examples of unique or innovative applications of haptics, please post a comment and let me know.

------

If you have any questions about haptics for our experts, post a comment and let us know.  Check back here Thursday for the next installment in this series, where we'll hear questions from Christina Nickolas, editor at Electronic Products, and Alix Paultre, editor-in-chief at ECN.  For more product-specific inquiries, head over to the Touch forum here on E2E.