By providing effects that evoke sensations as diverse as a rolling pinball, running engine or human heartbeat in the palm of your hand or bring rich, full-bodied sounds just like a live experience, ViviTouch® technology is changing how consumers experience their favorite electronics. The technology, developed by Artificial Muscle, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Bayer MaterialScience, is based on thin polymer films that can rapidly stretch and contract, like artificial muscles. Electroactive polymers (EAPs) have the ability to change shape when voltage is applied and transform electrical energy directly into motion. ViviTouch® produces haptic responses that immerse users in a high-definition (HD) world of tactile experience. The technology – with response times in the milliseconds – is ideal to create HD haptic effects. Thanks to a new type of ultra-thin, highly efficient electrical motor, it also uses up to 70% less energy than conventional vibratory motors. Now commercially available, the technology is garnering strong interest from the consumer electronics market, especially in gaming and headphone applications. The technology was originally intended to address inefficiencies in the conventional electro-magnetic actuators commonly used in robotics. ViviTouch actuators produce a one-of-a-kind cinematic sensation that bridges the senses of seeing, hearing and feeling. In haptics, ViviTouch HD Feel is used in mobile phones, gaming controllers and tablets to bring high definition feel to the entertainment experience. In audio, ViviTouch 4D Sound in headphones makes sounds come alive by amplifying the experience of how you hear, and what you hear. The new technology is not only more responsive, it is lighter, smaller, quieter and more energy efficient. The electroactive polymer product works by delivering quick pulses of voltage through two thin films of electrode layers that sandwich a dielectric elastomer film, a very non-conductive polymer material. When electricity shoots through the two halves, they squeeze together, squishing the filling inside. When the electricity stops, the stuffing causes them to rebound. The pulses of electricity can be delivered in such quick successions and so precisely across the grid of the material, that it can mimic very precise feelings, from the basic rumble of an earthquake, to a ball rolling from one side of a playfield to another, to the burst of gunshots or sizzle of electricity. Because it is so thin, and uses just 30% of the power needed for traditional rumble, it can easily be added to an off-the-shelf controller.
Haptic technologies mostly try to use vibration to simulate some other physical sensation, but what if we could actually change the friction of the surface, make it smoother or bumpier with real physical deformations? What if we could make a keyboard that actually pops out of the screen, and which can be depressed as we type? Strategic Polymers claims it will bring a product to market next year pop up keys that actually click when clicked, and that do so with a ground-breaking millisecond response time. The Strategic Polymers solution uses a new high-strain electromechanical material that can deform by “as much as 10%” and which responds quickly. Historically, we have had to choose one of those two virtues, getting either slow and meaningful responses, or quick and tiny ones. Here, Strategic Polymers claims to have got a technology that will allow true, clickable keys to pop right out of the surface of your smartphone’s touchscreen, and to respond quickly and accurately. The technology works via electrostriction, which is a property of every dielectric object in the world. By engineering this polymer to respond very specifically to an applied electric field, however, the researchers claim to be able to create all sorts of useful deformations - like a couple of dozen square keyboard keys. By adjusting the applied electric field in response to touch, the screen can seem to move in response to pressure, though in reality it is still only moving in response to the electric field, which is changing in response to touch. The result, if it all works as quickly and seamlessly as Strategic Polymers claims, would be a real physical keyboard on a fully functional touchscreen. One very interesting feature is the material’s ability to play sound. A speaker is just a highly controlled vibrating surface, really, one that creates patterns of tiny shockwaves that we interpret as sound. This haptic technology has a low enough response time that it can do this itself.