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.


"Can researchers study the populations of online video games, like Everquest 2, just as they study traditional communities like Miami, Pittsburgh or Minneapolis?"

A research study by a University of Minnesota computer scientist and colleagues from across the country shows that online, interactive gaming communities are now so massive that they mirror traditional communities.


Skeptic criticizes cognitive benefits of video games

How do video games affect cognition? There’s some evidence that they may improve it, but not all are convinced:

A French boffin is pouring scorn upon claims made by Japanese gaming giant Nintendo about the educational value of some of its ‘edutainment’ software.

Games like Big Brain Academy and Brain Training for the handheld Nintendo DS are touted as tools which can test and rejuvinate a user’s brain function, increase blood flow to the brain and improve memory and practical intelligence.

But Professor Alain Lieury from the University of Rennes has recently conducted a scientific survey of ten-year-old human lab rats which he reckons proves that the company’s claims are complete and utter cobblers.

“The Nintendo DS is a technological jewel. As a game it’s fine,” he told The Times, “but it is charlatanism to claim that it is a scientific test.”

Nearly 90 million DS units have been sold, many of them on the seemingly unfounded promise that using the twin-screened handheld console will help the age-addled among us keep our grey matter in tip-top condition, despite years of watching endless reruns of The Simpsons, getting three hours of sleep a night and drinking like vikings.

The prof reckons that both you and your kids will get just as much benefit from working out maths and logic problems using a 10p pencil as a £100 DS console and any amount of £30 software packages.

Beware French boffins pouring scorn!

(via Althouse)


Novint Falcon preorder discount

Novint is offering what seems to be a good deal to me: preorder of their Falcon consumer haptic interface for $189. I want one, but I live in Canada and they aren’t offering it to shipping addresses outside of the U.S. Grrr. Another reason I should be glad to be moving back to the states in a few months I suppose.