Button Feedback With An Electric Arc
Written by Mike James   
Sunday, 21 May 2017

Yes, its another odd ball idea from the ACM CHI Human-Computer Interactions conference. Have you ever wished that your keyboard could be more responsive? Well careful what you wish for. Your next keyboard could come with 10K Volts of feedback!

This is another fun, but perfectly serious and workable, haptics technique. The problem it is trying to solve is to provide feedback from proximity input devices. A proximity input device is one that you don't actually touch - it's a sort of in air sensor and they are set to become much more popular. A particular problem with this sort of input device is the hover:

Unlike touch, in-air gestures lack natural tactile feedback, which can make it hard for users to precisely perform a gesture and to manipulate the content with only proprioceptive feedback. This difficulty is most apparent for hover gestures when users have to position and maintain the height of their finger without performing a touch or leaving the hover range

The solution, called Sparkle, that Daniel Spelmezan, Deepak Ranjan Sahoo and Sriram Subramanian, working at the University of Sussex, have invented is to use lightning bolts. I'm not joking, and neither are they. The bolts are quite small sparks, but you can feel them for a variety of reasons.

Take a look at the video to see what it is all about:


What isn't clear from the video is that there was some personal suffering in the initial testing phases:

We conducted the first informal study together with one colleague. We experimented with arcs of low duty cycles and different modulation frequencies in continuous operation (e.g., 200 Hz, 1%), which we slowly touched with the pad of the index finger. Admittedly, during this playful test the arcs were either imperceptible, tingling or prickling, or too hot, sometimes scorching the skin in a tiny point.

A later study with 12 subjects was more successful:

Although the arcs may appear to be scary to touch at first, the participants quickly got used to interacting with the arcs, which suggests that experience can help overcome the initial anxiety and remove concerns about the safety of this technology. Moreover, the participants often considered our selection of arcs as subtle and weak, which suggests the possibility to design stronger sensations.

The big problem with the method seems to be the variability in response to the arc:

...while our initial exploration of the design space of inair feedback with electric arcs shows that users can perceive different tactile and thermal sensations for a simple hover gesture, the sensations can vary between users and can be difficult to reproduce. Further studies on the parameters that can affect the characteristics of the arcs are needed to create controllable and repeatable sensations at the fingertip.




More Information

Sparkle: Hover Feedback with Touchable Electric Arcs

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MIT Invents A Tactile Display 

A sticky touch screen improves interaction 


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Last Updated ( Sunday, 21 May 2017 )