A new sensation: Vibration technology gets more nuanced
A few companies want to replace the crude vibration motors in today’s phones and tablets with something that provides a much wider range of sensations, allowing you to feel the rumble of a Harley or the reverberation of a shotgun blast.
Sure, today's phones can deliver the sound of a heartbeat. But how would you like to actually feel the throbbing?
A few companies want to replace the crude vibration motors in today's phones and tablets with something that provides a much wider range of sensations, allowing you to feel the rumble of a Harley or the reverberation of a shotgun blast. The new technology can even let you feel the outlines of a button on the screen.
At the International Consumer Electronics Show, the gigantic gadget conclave in Las Vegas this week, a company called Artificial Muscle Inc. demonstrated how it can make mobile devices shake and rattle with great realism, employing a technology that uses plastics that function like muscles.
The company showed off an iPhone it had modified by placing one of its Vivitouch "motors" inside. The phone shook as it ran a simple ball-rolling game. The plastic muscle provided the feeling not just of the ball hitting the walls of a maze, but of the slight vibration it made while rolling freely across the floor.
When it was used for typing, the phone gave a buzzing sensation that confirmed each press of the virtual keys.
In another demonstration, a Vivitouch motor shook a modified Xbox controller to allow the user to feel what it's like to hold a beating heart. In another instance, it let the user experience the signature rumble of a Harley-Davidson motorcycle starting up.
The vibration engines that go into today's phones and game controllers consist of an electric motor that spins a metal weight. They take time to start up and are effective at only one frequency. That means they are unable to provide varying sensations. It's pretty much the same rumble or buzz every time.
With Vivitouch motors, users will have "high-definition feel," says Dirk Schapeter, CEO of Artificial Muscle.
Artificial Muscle's motors contain strips of "muscle." When an electric charge is applied over the strips, they expand and contract at a frequency that can be precisely controlled.
The first product to use Vivitouch came out in September. It's the Mophie Pulse, a sleeve for the iPod Touch that's intended to make games more lifelike.