haptics

Touchscreens touch back

June 15, 2010: 3:00 AM ET

We have grown fond of using our fingertips to navigate our computing devices, but screens rarely return the love. Enter haptic technology, which uses vibrations to provide feedback to touchscreen users. Haptics is great for games but could soon be used to make screens feel like other surfaces, such as wood or paper or fur. Here's how it works:

1. Motor: Haptic-enabledhaptics devices are outfitted with tiny internal motors; when you flick at the screen, some motors might start spinning, while others might move up and down. A weight affixed to the shaft of the motor creates a vibration.

2. Software: Special software on microchips in the device tells the motors what the vibration should feel like to the user: how strong, how long, and what shape it should be.

3. Applications: Today haptics is used in phones such as the LG Dare, which uses
vibrations to confirm data input. But technologists think haptics could turn computer screens into interactive tools for the sight impaired—a digital version of Braille.

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