At your fingertips: haptic touch controls in cars

There are some really cool new cars out there right now that have touch screens as a standard or optional feature.  But, many of us don’t think about all the other places in a car where haptics and touch controls can be used.  Almost any place in a vehicle where a button, knob or switch is used today could be fitted with touch-based controls using haptic feedback. 

Why would we want to replace our ‘good old’ buttons with touch controls, you ask?  There are a lot of reasons, including:

  • Design and driver experience:  Finish panels with rows of cutouts for buttons or switches can be replaced with a single smooth panel with control areas defined by printed or embossed graphics.  Dynamic backlighting can be used for ‘mood light’.  Haptic feedback gives the car designer flexibility to provide input confirmation silently or in combination with audible cues.  This provides drivers with a touch experience similar to what they are used to from their smartphone or tablet, even for controls like window lifts, overhead consoles and HVAC control.  Some touch solutions even allow use of materials like aluminum or wood.  Haptic effects can be customized by designers to provide a unique ‘feel’ for a vehicle brand.
  • Robustness and reliability:   Eliminating button cutouts makes control modules less susceptible to damage or degradation from moisture like if you spill your drink!  Eliminating moving mechanical parts removes multiple failure points from the systems. 
  • Fuel Economy:  How does a button, knob or switch have anything to do with fuel economy?  Mechanical switchgear is made out of substantial metal which add weight to a car.  It may not weigh hundreds of kilograms or pounds, but when automakers are trying to meet strict governmental fuel efficiency requirements, every few grams or ounces counts.  The electronics required for a haptics solution will save ounces per switch and the more touch controls per vehicle, the more weight saved. 
  • Cost savings:   From discussions with numerous vehicle body control manufacturers, we understand that touch controls eliminate costs associated with part fabrication and assembly of switch panels.   Wiring costs can also be reduced. The amount saved will vary by the type of control module, but cost savings are always an attractive point.  

So, where can touch controls be used in a car?  Center console button panels for HVAC and other controls, overhead modules, door-mounted window and mirror controls, steering-wheel mounted controls, exterior door handles and trunk releases, just to name a few.  In all these areas, haptics can instill user confidence and satisfaction and the differentiated tactile sensation sets vehicles apart from the competition.

For more info on the value of haptic feedback in touch screen infotainment systems, check out my previous blog called “Coming soon to automotive touchscreens: haptic feedback.”

To see more on how haptics are contributing to the car of the future check out this  infographic or read “Future cars – not so far away!

For more information on TI’s solutions for touch enabled applications, click here. Or better yet, visit us at CES in Las Vegas from January 7-10, 2014 to see demos on TI’s haptics solutions for vehicles and other applications.