Senseg Feel Screens

Senseg Feel Screens

Lozovskiy Rostislav

Faculty of Informatics and Computer Technique, NTUU “KPI”


Helsinki-based startup Senseg has a big idea: touchscreens that you can feel. «When we interact with physical objects we get lots of information through our sense of touch,» explains 36-year-old founder and CTO Ville Mäkinen.

The company, founded in 2006, uses an ultra-low electrical current to charge very thin durable coatings (made of a proprietary substance that can be applied to «almost any surface of any size») on a standard touchscreen. This creates a small attractive force to finger skin that can be modulated; sensations such as texture, edges and vibrations can be felt by the user.

Using R&D funding from the Finnish government and private investors such as Estonia’s Ambient Sound Investments, Senseg is trying to incorporate its technology into smartphone and tablet prototypes. Mäkinen hopes that feel screens will become integrated into gaming, magazines and even clothes.

Senseg wants to «haptify the whole user interface», says Mäkinen, «so all normal operations are guided by tactile cues.» This means you could answer a call with the slider key on the iPhone by being able to feel where it is. «What we expect to happen within a few years is that people come to rely on the intuitive way of using these devices, where they can rely on their tactile sense to guide them.»

Unlike other haptic technologies, there’s no reliance on moving parts or any physical change to the screen, meaning that Senseg’s concepts could be integrated into the same devices we use today. However, in order to make it into the hands of consumers, Senseg needs to secure hardware partners — something that company representative Dave Rice says is happening now, with hope that the tech will appear in devices within the next one or two years.

Senseg patented solution creates a sophisticated sensation of touch using Coloumb’s force, the principle of attraction between electrical charges. By passing an ultra-low electrical current into the insulated electrode, Senseg’s Tixel, the proprietary charge driver can create a small attractive force to finger skin. By modulating this attractive force a variety of sensations can be generated, from textured surfaces and edges to vibrations and more.

Unlike effects created by mechanical vibration and piezo solutions, Senseg is silent. With Senseg application developers have precise control of the location and type of effect users experience. What’s more, Senseg technology scales from touch pads, smart phones and tablets to the largest touch screens without increasing manufacturing complexity.

Senseg’s solution is comprised of three core elements:

  • Senseg’s unique Tixel technology that activates the touch screen for electrostatic vibration;
  • Senseg’s electronics module;
  • Senseg software that manages effects in applications.;

The Senseg Tixel

The Tixel is the means by which Senseg’s technology transmits electro-tactile stimulus. It is an ultra-thin durable coating on the touch interface that outputs tactile effects. Senseg’s patented Tixel can be applied to almost any surface, flat or curved, hard or soft, transparent or opaque. Because there are no moving parts in Senseg’s solution it can scale to almost any size of device. Moreover, with no mechanical inertia Senseg tactile response is immediate.

Senseg Electronics

The patent pending Senseg electronics module includes Senseg’s IC. It manages electrical signals sent to the Tixel surface. Senseg electronics modulate the signal for varied intensities of tactile sensation, types of tactile effects and provides accurate spatial resolution over the entire Tixel surface area. With low power operability and no moving parts, the Senseg electronics module is safe and reliable for the lifetime of a device.

Senseg’s chief technology officer, Ville Mäkinen, demonstrated the technology to, saying: «Feeling something else then lifeless glass when you’re operating a device is simply hugely satisfying. Humans obtain information through sense by exploring with our hands, and Senseg can enable this on any surface.»

We were shown a few basic proof-of-concept demos on a specially-modified Android tablet, including one with a series of areas of the screen that had different textures applied to them, and a music player where you moved your finger over different albums — where the strength of the effect was proportional to the popularity of the musician.

We were shown a few basic games too — one where you had to touch a series of wires to see which one felt slightly different, to defuse a bomb and one where you had to find a «rough» patch of ground for treasure-hunters to dig up a chest of gold.

The sensation it generates is very odd. It doesn’t necessarily feel like touching something — it’s more that it generates a bit of friction under the finger, as if it was a tiny bit sweaty, or as if the screen was slightly vibrating. It’s actually something you get used to quite quickly, and it’s then somewhat jarring to go back to a regular touchscreen.

The technology behind it is a little complex, but involves generating opposing charges on the screen and your finger so that a force is generated between the two. That gets turned into a «texture» by modulating the pressure created by that force so that it resonates at frequencies associated with certain touch sensations. That means it only uses energy when you’re generating an effect, cutting the impact on your battery life down to a claimed two percent over six hours.

However, the company is still working out what the various sensations are. Mäkinen admits that the first priority for the company was miniaturisation — getting what was originally a device the size of a microwave oven into a tablet form factor, and perhaps even a mobile phone. Then the second priority was establishing a production supply chain and integrating it with devices. Only when those processes are complete — which they now are — can the company knuckle down on the software and begin working on a library of distinct textures for developers to use in their apps.

Senseg wants to get its technology into high-end tablets soon — the firm has its sights set on Christmas 2012 for that. Then come mobile phones, but beyond that, the company’s ambitions veer into science fiction — «Touch communication, or touch over IP, is one thing that will happen,» says Moaffak. «Most humans after all have a basic need to touch and be touched.»



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