As CES passed for another year we saw another wave of announcements and demonstrations without the topic reaching the limelight it will soon command. For so long the industry has been dominated by ERM motors, and such is the strength of this incumbent that successful attempts to change this are still few and far between. However, emerging haptics has been a major research priority in the automotive sector (for car interiors), in VR, AR and robotics (for adding touch, force and acceleration to the sensation), as well as in other consumer sectors (for making user interfaces more intelligent). Apple shook things up in 2015 with their Taptic Engine, a custom LRA which they has already implemented via millions of phones, laptops and smartwatches. This is just the start, and IDTechEx Research's report Haptics 2016-2026: Technologies, Markets, Players outlines how the market will evolve over the next decade.
As for the announcements this year, the automotive sector once more led the way with the likes of Bosch and Audi showing different haptic displays for center consoles in cars. Bosch showed spatial variation of haptic feedback in a touch screen, simulating the sensation of buttons as the user moves across the capacitive touch surface of the display, allowing the user to continue looking at the road. The effect is very similar to the system created by Redux ST, whom IDTechEx visited and profiled during the extensive primary research program. Their system uses voice coils to create specific vibrational waves across any surface (e.g. a display). The system is tuned to the display image and touch inputs to create spatial differentiation in the response to simulate buttons. As with many types of haptics, this remarkable sensation is one that you must feel to truly appreciate.
There were also more examples of 'contactless' haptics, with a new demonstration from audio giant Harman joining Ultrahaptics (another company interviewed and profiled in the report) in demonstrating this technique using ultrasound. Again, this space is attempting to address a market pull from the automotive sector, where a combination of haptics and gesture recognition in center consoles is being tested as a successor to touch screens in the longer term. The system generates superimposed ultrasound waves to create a haptic sensation at a set distance above a 2D array of ultrasonic speakers. Again, this technology is one that must be felt to truly appreciate, and has been touted for use in vehicles, laptops and beyond.
Emerging haptics in automotive is already well along the typical 5-7 year lead times for commercialization, and products are due very soon. In consumer electronics, including smartphones and wearables, emerging haptics has had several false starts but gets closer to a win every time. Further into the future, the fields of robotics and VR are huge opportunities for new haptics technology, but there is a very long way to go. In a recent interview with Vanity Fair, speaking alongside Mark Zuckerberg, Oculus' Chief Scientist Michael Abrash said that creating a sense of haptics and acceleration was one of the key and most difficult pieces of the VR platform that they are working towards over the coming years and decades. IDTechEx Research's report, Haptics 2016-2026: Technologies, Markets, Players provides a comprehensive description of this evolving trend, and should be used to stay ahead of the curve.