Haptics Engine Enables “HD” Feedback in Compact Devices

Article By : John Walko

Boreas has started shipping reference designs based on its Piezo Haptic Engine, which offers what the company describes as "high definition feedback" in wearables.

Haptics technology specialist Boreas (Bromont, Qeubec) has started shipping reference designs based on its Piezo Haptic Engine (PHE), a module that offers what the company describes as “high definition feedback” in ultra-low-powered and space-constrained devices.

“We are targeting a wide range of small-factor wearable devices such as fitness trackers and smartwatches that will offer a significantly better user experience. Products incorporating our PHE should start appearing early next year,” Simon Chaput, founder and CEO of Boreas Technologies told EE Times.

Simon Chaput

The demand and market for higher-quality haptics capabilities in numerous applications is growing exponentially, a recent report from IDTechEx suggested.

The PHE integrates the low-power driver chip Boreas introduced last year, the BOS 1901, with third-party piezoelectric actuators from several companies. “Each customer needs its own version for achieving the best HD haptic experience possible, so it is a collaborative engineering and design effort,” said Chaput.

“People want wearables that feel good and are light. Our Haptic Engine will allow the development of very small factor devices with which customers can design products that can  leverage larger areas of the device and make fashionable, high performance products,” added Stuart Nixdorff, senior vice president at Boreas.

“Over the last 18 months we have taken on many system design engineers to help customers solve interface problems. In fact we have nearly doubled our workforce over this period, and now have 35 employees,” Chaput told EE Times.

What is ‘HD’ haptics?

Boreas claims its HPE is a major advancement over both legacy technologies that have dominated haptics in wearables and other small devices:  linear resonant actuators (LRA) and eccentric rotating mass (ERM) motors. The quality of the haptic performance of both LRAs and ERMs is linked directly to their own mass and volume.

Instead of this architectural approach, and in an effort to significantly reduce size, the PHE uses a tiny, off-the-shelf piezo actuator, and leverages the mass of other internal components to generate haptics performance. This is said to eliminate the size-power performance trade-off typical of LRAs and ERMs.

“Piezo actuators, used with our PHE, will offer stronger, more realistic and more responsive haptic experiences,” said Chaput. Other major advantages include small size and very low power consumption for devices in which every millimeter and microamp are critical.

Specifically, the PHE creates stronger haptic effects within a larger bandwidth, from frequencies between 30-300 Hz, compared with small LRAs that typically offer a narrow bandwidth at high frequencies, generally >200Hz.

And the PHE is said to be up to ten-times more power efficient than LRAs, thus significantly extending battery life. Rise and fall times are also much improved, with rise times of 2.25 cycles vs 11 cycles typically from LRAs. Meanwhile fall times are typically below 10ms against normally 80ms. These thus create more realistic haptic effects in wearable devices.

“We believe we are the first in the sector to be able to offer such an architecture and performance improvements,” said Nixdorff.

Boreas was founded five years ago to exploit CapDrive chip technology, which was developed at Harvard University as part of a project to improve the performance of piezoelectric actuators but soon started focusing on haptics. Chaput was one of the key players devising the chip process.

Chaput would not reveal the identity of the fab making the company’s piezo driver chips, but noted that “production can scale to meet the requirements of even the highest-volume consumer device.” Per-unit pricing in 10K quantities is under $2 per chip.

Chaput would not reveal the names of companies designing in the modules, but suggested they include many of the Tier 1 players in the field.

By far the largest player in the piezoelectric driver market is Texas Instruments.

[ This piece was originally edited to include the $5 price of a single BOS 1901, information taken from the Boreas web site. It has been updated to include the price for a typical volume order. — ed. ]

This article was originally published on EE Times.

John Walko is a technology writer and editor who has been covering the electronics industry since the early 1980s. He started tracking the sector while working on one of the UK’s oldest weekly technology titles, The Engineer, then moved to CMP’s flagship UK weekly, Electronics Times, in a variety of roles including news deputy and finally editor in chief. He then joined the online world when CMP started the EDTN Network, where he edited the daily electronics feed and was founding editor of commsdesign.com (which, over the years, has become the Wireless and Networking Designline). He was editor of EE Times Europe at its launch and subsequently held various positions on EE Times, in the latter years, covering the growing wireless and mobile sectors.

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