Imagine being able to touch your iPad or iPhone screen and feeling like you’re touching metal, wood, or fur — despite the fact it’s just a flat glass display. Impossible, surely? Not if a new haptic feedback patent Apple has filed comes to pass.
This haptic feedback technology could complete the sensory AR experience Apple is aiming for. Slap on some AirPods and summon up some ARKit visuals, and you’d have truly immersive augmented reality.
Haptic feedback for simulating materials
The patent, titled “Touch surface for simulating materials,” describes ways that Apple could mimic different textures using special vibrations. In its abstract, the patent description notes that Apple has invented:
“A system for simulating materials using touch surfaces includes a touch surface, an actuator and/or an temperature control device, and a control unit. The control unit controls the actuator or the temperature control device to cause at least a portion of the touch surface to simulate a material. Such control may include utilizing the actuator to vibrate the surface to simulate the tactile sensation of texture. Such control may also include utilizing the temperature control device (such as a Peltier device) to control the temperature of the surface in order to simulate the thermal conductivity of a material. In some cases, the temperature control may be performed utilizing a temperature sensor to adjust the temperature of the surface.”
Apple has been interested in haptic feedback for years. It has patents in this area dating back at least as far as 2011. When Apple eliminated the physical Home button with the iPhone 7, prior to ditching it altogether, it replaced it with a haptic version.
This provided the feeling of clicking a Home button without an actual moving button. Similar technology shows up in other devices. Apple has also explored the idea of a haptic keyboard. This would use virtual keys that simulate movement, rather than physical ones which can fail.
What are the possibilities?
Other researchers have gone further than that. Back in 2013, I wrote an article for Fast Company, describing haptic feedback research carried out at Disney. The Disney researchers had developed an algorithm capable of simulating tactile 3D geometric features, such as bumps, on a flat touchscreen surface.
“I’ll give you an example [of the possible applications],” researcher Ivan Poupyrev told me. “You could have a large table-sized touchscreen designed as a sandpit. Over which people must run their hands looking for a key, which has a very different feeling from the surrounding sandy areas. Another application might be the user dragging a character across a map, and feeling the stones, wooden planks and other surfaces beneath their feet as they do this.”
At the time, this was still far in the future. All Disney researchers could do was simulate bumps on a flat surface. But it’s easy to see why Apple would be interested in running with this kind of research. There are plenty of ways this could be used to enhance user interfaces. The technology could be useful for both accessibility purposes or just as a standard interface element.
Just don’t hold your breath to see this show up in next year’s iPad or iPhone line.
Via: Apple Insider