Francois Jeanneau, president and CEO of Novasentis, has spent the last two decades building strategic relationships, increasing revenues and catapulting growth at leading consumer OEMs and ODMs. Jeanneau will present the world’s thinnest haptic actuator technology at the upcoming FLEX and MEMS & Sensors Technical Congress 2019, February 18-21 in Monterey, Calif. SEMI’s Maria Vetrano interviewed Jeanneau to give FLEX and MSTC attendees a preview of this new technology that will enable rich, customizable haptic experiences with virtual reality (VR), hand-held game controllers and flexible wearable devices such as wristbands.
SEMI: What do consumers want from haptic feedback? How can the technology industry improve the user experience with haptics?
JEANNEAU: In many applications such as VR and gaming, our visual and auditory senses are satisfied by high-resolution displays and good-quality speakers, but they lack the sensation of realistic touch. That’s because haptic technology has lagged the technological advancements that we have made in displays, microphones and speakers. It’s also fallen far behind what is possible on the software side. At the same time, consumers are demanding more from their VR and gaming experiences.
Through improvements in haptics, prospective home-buyers touring a home via VR headset will be able to “feel” those granite countertops in the kitchen, assess whether their couch will fit in the living room and check out the view from the back porch, all from the comfort of their own home. Virtual travelers will be able to touch the marble walls of the Taj Mahal, and sports enthusiasts will feel the impact of a tennis ball when they use their haptics 2.0-enabled controller.
Haptics will dramatically improve what’s possible in wearable devices as well. From their smartwatches, consumers will discern hundreds of different sensations, from a mild heartbeat to a sharp reminder that they are steering a car through an intersection. This is all possible through new haptic actuator technologies that can accept hundreds of inputs to generate an entire haptic language of outputs.
SEMI: What are some major obstacles to realizing improvements in haptics for flexible devices such as wrist-worn devices?
JEANNEAU: The best wrist-worn devices today offer a rudimentary haptic output that merely says, “hey, pay attention to me.” To comprehend the alert, the user must look at the display, press a few buttons and then interact with the device. This distracts the user while riding/driving, creating potentially dangerous situations. It’s also frowned upon, particularly in the middle of a meeting!
The legacy haptic technologies – eccentric rotating mass (ERM) motors and linear resonant actuators (LRAs) – that are currently used in today’s devices are problematic on multiple levels. They are bulky, sometimes occupying a third of the real estate in a smartwatch. As they are generally made of metal, they are also heavy and too thick for many devices. Their output tends to be slow, lagging the output in the display, making the whole experience clunky. They tend to be power-hungry as well.
SEMI: How is Novasentis approaching these technical challenges?
JEANNEAU: Novasentis has created an extremely thin (150 um), flexible and low-power polymer film actuator that is small enough to be easily embedded into the next generation of smarter wearable devices and garments; the actuator can provide hundreds of different types of vibrating feedback to the wearer for improved notification and/or suggested actions. The film actuator (that can replace a mechanical motor vibrator found in smartphones and smartwatches) is made by stacking layers of electroactive polymer and metal to create the piezoelectric structure. Upon power-up via a modulated waveform, the molecules move to align themselves in response, which elongates and relaxes the polymer. This causes the attached substrate (wristband in a watch, for example) to bend and relax, thus, causing the vibration effect, or haptic and audio feedback (which is unique to our material).
SEMI: How will you demonstrate your technical approach at FLEX 2019?
JEANNEAU: We will bring examples of designs incorporating our technology as we share live demos of wearables, game controllers and other applications. We will also bring actual haptic actuator materials for show and tell.
Francois Jeanneau will present Flexible Actuators for Sensational Haptics at Flex and MSTC on Wednesday, February 20 at 8:00 am.
Maria Vetrano is a public relations consultant at SEMI.