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Haptikdemonstrator im Use-Case "Smart Drill" mit Smartphone App.

Active Haptics in Smart Tools

At Intuity, we design tools - products that empower people to solve challenges efficiently and easily. In our workshop, we develop new, smart tools through the fusion of analog and digital technologies that enable work processes that were not possible before. As technological complexity increases, the complexity for the user usually grows. A really good tool is like an extension of the arm. With the use of Active Haptics, we open up a new dimension of natural communication between man and machine.

Being able to manipulate how things feel is one of the most exciting possibilities that today's technology has to offer in terms of interaction.

Active haptic feedback - e.g., vibration, knocking, or oscillation - can now be artificially generated by special actuators. This channel can make the interaction between man and machine safer, more efficient, and intuitive. Devices can inform the user about their status, signal operating errors, or guide the user in a direction or position.

This technology is becoming increasingly relevant considering the next generation of tools: Sensors and actuators extend hand-held power tools and transform these tools into small robots we can hold in our hands. They can assist users or can even perform work semi-autonomously.

To explore the potential of haptic feedback for interaction, we have developed UX prototypes. With the PR-01, we investigate use cases for cyber-physical tools and experiment with active haptic feedback.

A new generation of tools and equipment

Construction sites, workshops, or the forest, are bustling work environments. Especially when working with machines, all senses are required. The two primary senses - seeing and hearing - are already fully utilized due to hearing protection and focus on the workpiece. Therefore, a display or sound output to show additional information cannot always meet the requirements. Especially older users are more likely to be overloaded by acoustic signals or warnings in stressful situations. [1]

The simulation of haptic feedback opens up a new communication channel that can also be used for tools. It is swift and can transmit information without requiring permanent attention.

Brand experience

Not only is haptic feedback relevant to the operation and function of devices, but it also plays a central role in brand perception. How does the brand feel across the product family? Does the feedback convey precision and objectivity, or does it make the products feel playful and emotional?

How a product feels cannot not be designed, regardless of whether it was deliberately thought through or left to chance. A clear definition of the haptic effects and characteristics ensures that a comprehensive brand experience is created. The devices consequently achieve a higher value perception and provide more security in use.

Technical interior view of the Haptics Demonstrator with a selection of components
Using fast iteration loops, we explore and find the perfect combination of haptic actuators and components.
Teamwork in the design of controller circuit boards for prototypes
Custom-made circuit boards give our prototypes stability and give us full control in the design of a product.
Handles and iterations in production with the 3D printer
A large number of variants can be quickly generated and compared through parametric design.
Quality inspection of a test piece from the CNC milling machine
Depending on material and weight, the perception differs significantly. Such parameters are not left to chance.
Close-up of the surface of a workpiece during the milling process
Our CNC milling machine creates quickly tangible and assessable samples from a wide variety of materials.
Setup for testing and evaluating haptic prototypes.
In order to answer the question of perception, actuators and technology must be put to the test.

The status quo

Today, haptic feedback is already a part of many products. In vehicles haptic signals contribute to increasing the safety of the occupants: If the car is about to leave the lane, the driver assistance system warns the driver through an impulse in the seat or at the steering wheel. Video game controllers use haptic signals to create a more immersive experience. With the rise of VR applications, this is becoming increasingly important.

Basics of Haptic Feedback

The acceptance of haptic signals is high when used appropriately. Various points must be considered in the design of haptic events: In addition to the material of the handle and the appropriate actuator, the area on the body where the feedback is applied plays a major role. Haptic perception differs enormously depending on the body's region: While the fingertips are among the most sensitive areas, vibrations on the upper arm and hips are only perceived diffusely.

Although the focus is usually on the perception of mechanical vibration, tactile and kinaesthetic stimuli must be taken into account: If, for example, you turn the volume control of a stereo system, you get tactile feedback from the rasterization as well as kinaesthetic feedback from your joints about the knob rotation. Concepts must be made tangible in the form of UX prototypes and tested with users to gain certainty. [2], [3]

The Technology behind Haptics

There is a wide range of electro-mechanical components that can be used to generate haptic feedback:

The standard method of generating haptic feedback is based on a DC motor with an eccentrically rotating flywheel mass (ERM: eccentric rotating mass) - commonly known as a "vibration motor". In this design, the frequency and strength of the impulse are coupled, and the response is sluggish. While cheap, ERMs limit the freedom in designing haptic feedback significantly.

Surface Exciters and LRA Actuators, on the other hand, set the object vibrating with an oscillating input signal and thus generate audible or perceptible feedback - the difference between both designs is mainly in weight and consequently in frequency spectrum and power.

Accelerated Ram actuators work similarly, but can also hit the oscillating mass against a damper. This feedback can be both felt and heard.

Many of these components are already optimized for series production and can be well integrated into the development process.

Portrait
Thomas Weiß
„The tools of the future will be hand-held robots. Active haptics will considerably simplify communication between humans and tools.”

At Intuity, we develop and design tools of the new, cyber-physical generation. We tackle all the steps from innovation strategy to proof of concept. With the usage context in mind, we explore the potential for integrating haptic feedback into your product, develop ideas, make them tangible in our lab and test them with users.

Foodnotes

  1. Beruscha, F. (2012). Nutzerorientierte Gestaltung haptischer Signale in der Lenkung, Universitätsverlag Ilmenau, Link (25.08.20) back
  2. Merchel, S. (2014). Auditory-Tactile Music Perception, Shaker Verlag, Germany. back
  3. Notes on Medicine and Surgery. 2-point discrimination; Vibration and Temperature sensation, Link (19.04.20) back
  4. Designing With Haptic Feedback, Thomas Müller (Developed in cooperation with Intuity) - hapticlabs.io back