Immersion presents "breathtaking" demonstration of new user experience

This morning at the Fortune Brainstorm: TECH conference, our CTO presented another technology demonstration I designed as a part of Immersion’s user experience research program. The demo consists of two tablet PCs that have been modified to include high-fidelity touch feedback. A two-player pinball game allows players to pass a ball back and forth between their tablets over a network. Touch feedback is felt by both users at once, which creates the illusion that the tablets themselves are somehow physically connected together. When you shoot the ball off of your screen and onto the other one, even though you can no longer see it, you can still feel it bouncing off the various objects in the game.

Here’s a screenshot:


All of the elements in the game—walls, bumpers, vortex, etc.—are “haptified” (in other words, when the ball hits them, you feel it). We call it “high-fidelity haptics” because the touch feedback is incredibly nuanced and varied. The chute on the top right feels like a hollow tube. The ball hitting the metal walls feels sharp and solid. When the ball goes up the xylophone, you hear and feel the pitch of every note. And the vortex feels like—well, it feels like a vortex, even though I’ve never felt a real one before.

This kind of tactile PC game is entirely new, and so is the possibility of high-fidelity haptics inside a notebook screen. As our CTO (who is also my boss) is fond of saying, I believe we have just “taken it to the next level.”

Here’s Immersion’s press release about the technology.

UPDATE: Computerworld has published an article about the demo called “Haptics: The feel-good technology of the year”:

Immersion CTO Christophe Ramstein demonstrated today at Fortune’s Brainstorm Tech conference a breathtaking new generation of haptic technologies he calls “high-fidelity haptics.”

Ramstein called a volunteer onto the stage and invited her to play a pinball game on a specially configured Hewlett-Packard tablet PC. She immediately responded to the haptics, and said that she could actually “feel a metal ball rolling on a hard surface.” She could feel all the motion of the game, the vibration of the whole machine and detailed, super-realistic but subtle tactile cues of the kind that you would feel with a real, physical pinball machine.

After playing for a minute or two, Ramstein threw a switch to turn off the haptics. The volunteer reported, essentially, that the game suddenly became cold and dead, even though all the graphics and sound were still in play.

Read the whole thing.

ANOTHER UPDATE: On CNNMoney, The Touchscreen Goes Ultratactile:

At Fortune’s Brainstorm Tech conference, Immersion’s chief executive officer, Clent Richardson, and chief technology officer Christophe Ramstein, let me play with the company’s latest innovation: a two-player game prototype that offers touch feedback as a pinball moves between two computer screens.

The game did indeed feel like an old-school pinball machine. The tablet vibrated under my fingers, and there was a tangible change in pressure when the paddle made contact with the ball.

Immersion mobile research in the Wall Street Journal

The use of haptics in mobile phones is still in its infancy, with Samsung Electronics Co. leading the way. Its Omnia phone, for example, vibrates to confirm each touch of the screen, and a vibration that shudders to a stop indicates that a call has been dropped.

But the wider deployment of haptic-enabled phones will open the door to new applications.

[Immersion] says that in the next nine months three mobile carriers will be launching applications it created that allow users to communicate emotions nonverbally. For example, frustration can be communicated by shaking the phone, which will create a vibration that will be felt by the other party. That person might then choose to respond with what the developers call a “love tap”, a rhythmic tapping on the phone that will produce a heartbeat-like series of vibrations on the other party’s phone.

Immersion’s general manager of touch business, Craig Vachon, says the next step is developing a phone that can deliver a physical sensation based on the position of a finger on a touch screen. One application would be a touch-screen keyboard that feels like a traditional keyboard…

“The technology is such that we could blindfold you and you would be able to feel the demarcation between the keys of a keypad, on a completely flat touch screen,” Mr. Vachon says.

Walt Mossberg smiles while he uses my demo


My team, the Advanced Research Group at Immersion Corporation, had the extraordinary privilege to present our cutting edge designs on stage at the Wall Street Journal’s All Things Digital Conference. It’s so rewarding to see our top-secret hard work finally unveiled!

Here’s the highlight video posted on the All Things Digital website:

For more, read the full press release.

Engadget: Immersion demos new TouchSense multitouch, haptic keyboard at D7.
Gizmodo: Immersion’s new haptic touchscreen tech encourages corny iPhone romance.
Electricpig: Multitouch tactile keyboard demoed