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Apple awarded patent for more accurate haptic feedback system

post #1 of 7
Thread Starter 
The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on Tuesday granted Apple a patent for a haptic feedback system suitable for use in multitouch devices, where the unit's various points of input can be more accurately represented by a number of synchronized actuators.

Haptic Feedback Patent
Block diagram of haptic feedback system with waveforms and suppressing waveforms
superimposed over contact points. | Source: USPTO


Apple's U.S. Patent No. 8,378,797 for a "Method and apparatus for localization of haptic feedback" describes a system where at least two actuators are positioned beneath a multitouch input device to provide vibratory feedback when a user makes contact with the unit. More specifically, the patent provides for one actuator to induce a feedback vibration, while at least one other actuator creates a second vibration to suppress the first from propagating to unwanted regions of the device, thereby "localizing" the haptic experience.

While the patent gives the example of a "virtual keyboard," the language specifically notes the invention can be applied to any multitouch interface, such as the keyboard of a touch-sensitive mobile communications device like an iPhone.

Although Apple's handset does not currently boast a haptic feedback system, the technology is used in other smartphones as a way to enhance a user's experience with the device. As noted in the patent's language, there are solutions that feature a number of separate actuators situated at various locations under a single surface where users typically interact with the UI. For example, static "home" or "software" capacitive buttons can have actuators positioned beneath them as a user is likely to make contact with that location many times while handling a device.

Unlike other technologies, however, Apple's patent covers a plurality of actuators situated across a broad field, enabling precise haptic feedback for multitouch panels. A problem arises when attempting to use tactile feedback with a multitouch display, which is the management of propagating vibrations to unwanted sectors of the screen.

To focus the system's vibrations at a single point of contact, the patent uses destructive interference created at various points away from the originating, and wanted, vibration to obscure or otherwise cancel the propagating "vibratory crosstalk."

Haptic Feedback Patent
Waveform amplitude and complimentary suppression waveform amplitude.


As an example, Apple applies the method to a virtual keyboard. When the operating system logs a touch event, perhaps at the "A" key, the corresponding actuator positioned beneath the contact point is activated, causing a small vibration. In order to stop this vibration from moving across the device to a finger located near the "L" key, a number of actuators provide a suppression waveform that "masks or otherwise changes the ultimate vibration at these other contact locations."

The actuators' vibrations can be pre-configured depending on whether they are positioned between a touch location and suppression area, or adjacent to each other. By controlling the frequency and amplitude of the emitted vibrations, the system can effectively stop propagating waves or "crosstalk."

It is unclear if Apple plans to use the invention in an upcoming handset or tablet, though the company has a number of haptic feedback patents and patent applications in its portfolio.

Apple's '797 patent was first filed for in 2009 and credits Aleksandar Pance, Paul Alioshin, Brett Bilbrey and David T. Amm as its inventors.
post #2 of 7
I don't know what's more amazing, the technology or the fact that some is awake and at their desk at 6:05AM eastern time at the U.S. Patent Office...
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post #3 of 7
Quote:
Originally Posted by razorpit View Post

I don't know what's more amazing, the technology or the fact that some is awake and at their desk at 6:05AM eastern time at the U.S. Patent Office...


This type of haptic feedback is a rather simplified form of what Sensable Technology (and other similar companies) offer. In a full-fledged system, you can discern geometry and mechanical properties such as, with your eyes closed, you'd really feel like you're touching something real. Understandably, current motor technology does not allow miniaturization to a scale such that we can embed a full-fledged haptic system in a computing device. Therefore, vibration gimmicks are used instead.

post #4 of 7
My guess is that this haptic feedback tech is destined not only for mobile devices, but also for their notebook and desktop lines. We'll see a haptic keyboard system in mobile devices no later than the end of 2014 and an Apple Wireless Keyboard no later than the end of 2015. They've already very successfully acclimated their customers (if not the world) to touch-on-glass input. 
 
Also, Apple likes to eliminate voids and moving parts and go thinner/lighter wherever they can. They also like to reduce the chances that users will need to have their units repaired or replaced. A major failure point (especially with spills) are keyboards.
 
It also would be posible to introduce additional display information into a glass keyboard and re-configure key layout virtually via the Settings app.
 
If an implementation of this technology can provide acceptable accuracy, ergonomics, and speed, Apple will do it. They would innovate and differentiate all in one stroke and incorporate new input technology across virtually their entire hardware product lines. 
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post #5 of 7

With this system, a user may be able to feel the keys on a virtual/glass keyboard, but I believe they still wouldn't be able to emulate the feeling of key travel, which may make it hard to replace current keyboards.

post #6 of 7
Quote:
Originally Posted by stelligent View Post


This type of haptic feedback is a rather simplified form of what Sensable Technology (and other similar companies) offer. In a full-fledged system, you can discern geometry and mechanical properties such as, with your eyes closed, you'd really feel like you're touching something real. Understandably, current motor technology does not allow miniaturization to a scale such that we can embed a full-fledged haptic system in a computing device. Therefore, vibration gimmicks are used instead.


I'm not following this.  Obviously, haptic systems are already on the market and there are some (such as those made by Sensable) that offer virtual haptics for manipulating 3D digital objects.

 

However, the Apple tech in question is exactly the "vibration gimmicks" you dismiss, that is, a specific implementation of a haptic system such that it provides better feedback on the touchscreen of  a phone or tablet sized device. 

 

It would be a little like saying that if a smartphone included a projector that that would be "just a simplified version" of what is already available in theaters.  That is, true as far as it goes, but sort of beside the point.

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post #7 of 7
Quote:
Originally Posted by LighteningKid View Post

With this system, a user may be able to feel the keys on a virtual/glass keyboard, but I believe they still wouldn't be able to emulate the feeling of key travel, which may make it hard to replace current keyboards.

You could say the same for iPhone (even without haptic feedback), yet that hasn't stifled adoption of touch screens over physical keyboards. I know numerous people who converted from Blackberry to iPhone who never thought in a million years that they could do without a physical keyboard.

 

That's why I think that if Apple does introduce it in non-mobile devices, you'll see it first as an option for the Apple Wireless Keyboard-alongside the standard physical keyboard of the current AWK. If early adopters try it and like it, skeptics may become converts. 

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