Translating Sound into Soft Touch for Haptic Devices

Technology #5433

Background: This technology transforms inaudible sound waves into tactile pressure, providing an improved haptic (i.e., touch) feedback option for a wide range of products. For example, tactile stimulation benefits infants, including premature and full-term newborns, as soothing and as a therapy for sleep apnea, which has been linked to sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Also, the computer hardware industry is expanding its use of haptic feedback within touch-screen devices, mice, and gaming controls. These and other applications have had to rely on technologies with several key limitations that are addressed by this innovative device, which emerged from a technological art project. That project sought to engineer a textile that would pulse according to a recorded heartbeat signal.

Technology: Jill Coffin from the School of Literature, Media, and Communication at Georgia Tech has developed an innovative method to provide tactile/haptic information to the user by transmitting inaudible sound waves through a sealed capsule (i.e., air pocket) made of a flexible polymer. Unlike current haptic technologies—vibromotors, magnetic coils with rigid armatures, rollers, and electro-active polymers—this patented invention is easy to incorporate into textiles and other products.

The innovative mechanism uses an electromechanical or piezoelectric speaker to issue inaudible sound waves of a recorded heartbeat or other sound file stored on a compact flash memory device. The low-frequency sound waves are then transmitted through small, flexible air pockets, causing tactile/haptic actuation within other objects, such as a textile or a touch screen device.

Potential Commercial Applications:

  • Apnea/SIDS therapy, heartbeat simulation, and other vibration-based soothing products for infants
  • Sound-indicating devices for people who are hearing impaired
  • Novelty/Fashion textiles
  • Computer interfaces (e.g., touch screens, mice, game controllers)

Benefits/Advantages:

  • Low cost: Uses components that are less expensive than other high-tech options
  • Better response: Responds more quickly and more refined/granular than existing products with slow and/or coarse responsiveness
  • Enhanced performance: Achieves a silent, smoother, pulse-like response rather than an unpleasant push or buzz
  • Soft, compact interface: Embeds easily into textiles and other products requiring flexibility (e.g., textiles) or portability (e.g., computer mice)
  • Controllable: Distributes sound wave pressure across a specifiable, localized area
  • Customizable: Reconfigures easily to achieve a variety of distinctive tactile outputs