Insights from BCC Research

Haptic Touchscreen Technology Taps the Future in Car Design

Posted by Clayton Luz on Feb 10, 2016 6:00:00 AM

Haptics derives its name from the Greek word haptesthai, literally meaning “to touch.” Its technologies are associated with the sense of touch, in particular about providing the very important tactile feedback that lends completeness to a user’s experience.

In its most basic form, haptics is about providing tactile feedback, conveyed through simple vibrations. However, in their quest to emulate realistic tactile responses, haptic technology designers have embarked upon an ambitious spree of actuator material and technology exploration.
For example, take the car touchscreen Bosch debuted at CES 2016 last month in Las Vegas. The display gives images tactile quality through haptic feedback. The keys feel like real buttons, including their surface textures--rough, smooth, and patterned surfaces that indicate different buttons and functions. The touchscreen looks no different from an ordinary display, yet it gives users the impression that they are pressing real buttons.  
The digital dashboard system is designed to allow drivers to keep their eyes on the road while using haptic feedback to manage infotainment applications such as navigation, radio, and smartphone functions, says the company.
While touch screens lend vividness and flexibility to the user interface, they compromise on the tactile feedback to which human beings have become habituated, says Shalini Ramamurthy, a BCC Research analyst.
“Value addition rendered by haptics technology is most prominently appreciated in the mobile computing and portable device and application. Moreover, the dynamic nature of the display orientation and menu organization presents newer design challenges, triggering the search for haptic actuator technologies with greater maneuverability and control,” she explains. “Haptic technologies like the one behind Bosch’s touchscreen aim at plugging that gap and imparting close to real feedback that can aid the user to handle devices and machines with a greater degree of efficiency and effectiveness.”
Quantum jumps in haptic actuation technology has spurred development of “smarter” devices like touchscreen buttons that feel real to the user. Ramamurthy says, “At the broadest level, haptic actuators have graduated from motor-based design to material-based designs. Reliance on materials allows designers to free themselves from the vagaries of power supply variations in characteristics. Having gotten a freer hand in engineering haptic responses, designers have now focused their attention to fine tuning, calibrating and targeting haptic feedback in order to achieve maximum impact.”
Mobile computing and portable devices are at the forefront of haptic technology adoption, she observes. The advent of touch screens and the pressure to increase the display area has limited the availability of physical controls like buttons, wheels and sliders on mobile devices. Consequently, users have to reconcile with the vagaries of touch screens as input devices.
But change seems imminent as haptic technology continues to evolve, as seen with Bosch’s haptic touchscreen concept. The system also can detect the amount of pressure being applied to a button, notes Darren Moss. For example, lightly touching the screen will activate the help function, “while varying degrees of pressure can be used to control other functions, including how fast users scroll through a list.”
Besides its haptic elements, the infotainment system also features visual and auditory signals. The information shown on the display changes depending on the vehicle’s current surroundings. If a pedestrian approaches from the right, a lighting sequence is triggered to alert the driver. Drivers’ preferences as well as appointments in their diary are also taken into account. For example, if an appointment is canceled, the car of the future will automatically indicate the route to the next appointment in the diary.
Imagine. All this at the “touch” of a button.
The global haptic technology actuator market, which reached $1.6 billion in 2014, is expected to total nearly $2.7 billion and $10.3 billion in 2015 and 2020, reflecting a five-year compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 30.7%.