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- Touchscreen interfaces have seen increasing usage in recent years in a wide variety of applications including POS systems, voting machines, and personal computers. Despite their increasingly widespread adoption, however, touchscreens have been limited by the need for the user to take their eyes off of other tasks to look at the screen. This can make tasks more time consuming and difficult, and can introduce safety concerns when used by an operator who needs to keep an eye out for important visual cues from other sources. For instance, the use of a touchscreen GPS while operating a motor vehicle can make navigation easier, but can also be dangerous for both the driver.
- Prior to the development of the device in question, haptic feedback had already been implemented in consumer and industrial settings in various ways. In the context of touchscreen controls, vibration in response to input is commonly used. This approach is unfortunately limited by the number of different parts of the device that can vibrate. Older smartphones typically only have a single eccentric rotating mass (ERM) vibrator. Apple’s Taptic Engine, first used in iPhones then introduced to its other products such as MacBooks, uses a new type of vibrator called a linear resonant actuator (LRA), which is able to quickly give more precisely timed and calibrated vibrations than an ERM. However, only a single LRA is used, which limits the amount of information that can be given at any particular moment. Valve’s Steam Controller, released for use with games on a personal computer, has two touchscreens with LRAs to give precise feedback, plus two ERM’s in the handles for more traditional “rumble” feedback. While it is an impressive piece of technology, it still only has four sources of vibration to work with at any given time. When LRA is combined with pressure-sensitive touchscreen technology, such as that found in Apple’s Force Touch technology, the user experience can be made to feel much like a real button. Again, however, the information than can be exchanged between the user and the device is limited. Devices only vibrate in response to user input, and do not provide actual resistance against said input.
- A somewhat different category of haptic feedback is “active force feedback,” which refers to functionality that in some manner physically restricts the user’s ability to use a control or set of controls. One of the earliest uses was in airplane flight controls. Switching to electronic controls meant that pilots weren’t able to feel the resistance that came from mechanical controls which were connected to the components being manipulated and would therefore transmit force on the components to the user. The addition of a servomechanism in the controls in response to sensors in the components supplied the feedback that the pilots were used to. Force feedback has also been built into controls for mechanical arms that provide resistance similar to what the user would experience if they were using their hands, allowing them to precisely handle materials that would be dangerous if handled directly.
- The device in this report uses a grid of linear actuators within solenoids which is able to both give and receive information from a computer in real time. By increasing or decreasing the strength of the electromagnetic field (EMF) generated by the solenoid, the position of the actuator and the amount of resistance that the actuator provides against user input can be quickly and precisely calibrated. Pressing on an actuator causes disturbances in the EMF by changing its position within the solenoid. These disturbances can be measured and translated into electronic signals that represent user input.
- The device is able to provide functionality above and beyond both
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