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Eat, Spend, Run: Students Write Next Chapter of Haptics

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Today, electronics are deeply integrated into nearly everything we do: The devices and products that you could say govern our lives all feature electronics, offering us greater automation, efficiency and ease of use than ever before.

Within this macro trend, one technology that is quickly emerging is haptics—a field that is redefining the human-machine interface (HMI) and enabling novel use cases and applications. Still, despite the great potential for haptic technology, there is an overwhelming sense that we have only scratched the surface of what is possible.

A recent hackathon supported by Titan Haptics showcased the creative potential for the field of haptics.

Image of students designing haptics applications during Titan Haptics' hackathon, held at at the Delft University of Technology.
Students participate in Titan Haptics’ hackathon, held at at the Delft University of Technology. (Source: Titan Haptics)

What are haptics?

Haptic technology, at the highest level, is a field of electronics that seeks to provide device users with tactile feedback in response to a given input or external stimulus.

In a haptic device, the occurrence of some event will trigger haptic feedback, which will cause the device to apply forces or vibrate in such a way that can be interpreted through the user’s sense of touch. Some common examples of haptics are a smartphone vibrating upon receiving a notification or a game controller rumbling based on events in the game.

Most commonly, haptic feedback is achieved with electronic actuators. Amongst these, some of the more common actuators include linear resonant actuators (LRAs), eccentric rotating mass actuators (ERMs), voice coil motors (VCMs) and linear magnetic rams (LMRs). Today, ERMs and LRAs are considered legacy technologies, while LMRs and VCMs are newer technologies that enable a broader range of haptic feedback.

While each of these technologies function in a slightly different way and come with different pros and cons, they all share some fundamental principles of operation. Namely, each type of actuator is electronically activated, requiring some form of driving voltage (waveform) to cause the device to vibrate. Depending on the input waveform, haptic devices can take on several unique vibrations and patterns to help create unique and immersive tactile sensations for the user.

Limited by imagination

As is commonly the case for emerging technologies, it can be hard to have the foresight to see the impact that is to come. The haptic industry is currently in a place of infancy, but like the computer industry in the early 1960s, there is plenty of room to grow.

Currently, there is ongoing research and development in several unique applications for haptic technology. Fields like augmented and virtual reality are some of the biggest drivers of the industry, where companies are using haptics to create truly immersive experiences by leveraging tactile feedback.

Still, at Titan Haptics, we truly believe that the applications for haptics are only limited by our imaginations. With the right amount of creativity and inspiration, we believe that there are hundreds of novel applications yet to be discovered through haptic technology.

Students cook up new ideas

As a testament to the potential of haptics, Titan Haptics recently supported a hackathon at the Delft University of Technology. Here, students put their creativity to the test and competed to develop unique and novel haptics-based applications.

Amongst these, some of the most notable projects include:

  • A knob that sets cook time based on tactile feedback: In this project, students leveraged tactile feedback to demonstrate a unique use of haptics in cooking. Students were able to use haptics to determine the tenderness of pasta and use that information in a feedback loop to determine the necessary cook time.In the implementation, the students made it so the strength of the haptic feedback increased as the intensity of the flame increased, and the vibration frequency decreased as pasta became softer to emulate the “wobbly” feeling of a cooked noodle.
  • An app that replicates the feeling of money (coins) moving when you spend money: When we spend money today, it’s primarily virtual. Some experts believe that losing the tangible effect of real money has led to poor spending decisions since we are physically disassociated with the act of spending money. This project sought to mitigate this issue by using haptics to replicate the feeling of money moving around in a user’s pocket when making a virtual expenditure.The students accomplished this by causing the haptics’ vibration frequency to increase as the total amount of money spent increased. Additionally, there would be a large haptic “bump” at certain increments to indicate the amount. For example, there would be a large bump for every $5 spent, so a meal that costs $16 will have three consecutive bumps and a relatively high-end vibrational frequency.
  • A vest that helps you pace when running: This project sought to assist athletes who want to better keep pace when running. The group of students used haptics to develop a vest that uses haptics to provide tactile feedback to runners, providing them with information about their running pace and their breathing.Here, the vest was capable of many functions, including providing feedback for slope and surface changes. The vest would also allow strides per minute to be marked per minute (like a metronome) through a pulsing haptic feedback signal. The students considered this pulsing to be like a “heartbeat for running”. When the runner was slowing, the haptics were used like a mom giving a gentle push—encouraging and sustaining optimal performance throughout the run.
Image of students showcasing their unique haptics applications at Titan Haptics' hackathon.
Students showcase their unique haptics applications at Titan Haptics’ hackathon. (Source: Titan Haptics)

As we learned from the students at the Delft University of Technology, there are hundreds of unimagined applications for haptics out there—all it takes is some creativity.

As the field matures and more use cases get developed, we at Titan Haptics are confident that haptics will come to play an integral role in our daily lives.

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