Haptics is a tactile feedback technology that simulates the sense of touch through motions, forces and vibrations. It has the potential to change the way people experience content and interact with on-screen interfaces.

Now that the Consumer Electronics Show frenzy has passed, we have an opportunity to take a new look at announcements in the haptic ecosystem. For a more nuanced view, EE Times has consulted James Hayward, principal technology analyst at IDTechEx.

On the CES 2020 show floor, Seattle-based HaptX showcased haptic feedback gloves for use in VR, training, and robotics, France’s Hap2U demonstrated its Hap2phone haptic smartphone display, which allows users to feel and sense objects on touchscreens, while Canada’s Boréas Technologies introduced what it claims is the first low-power high-voltage piezoelectric driver IC to enable high-definition haptic feedback in automotive human-machine interfaces (HMIs). In the meantime, TDK and Immersion demonstrated the ability to incorporate various haptic effects on a large touchscreen using a single piezoelectric actuator. The reference design demonstrator, built with TDK’s PowerHap piezoelectric actuator and Immersion’s Active Sensing technology, illustrates the use of haptics to deliver realistic touch feedback for buttons, dials, switches, and textures in programmable automotive HMIs.


Recommended
Driver Safety to be Enhanced with Piezo Haptic Feedback
First Haptic Smartphone Display Offers Texture Sensations


This list isn’t exhaustive, but it gives an idea of the technology approaches startups and more established companies are betting on.

An analyst’s analysis

The global haptic component market will be worth $4.8 billion by 2030, according to a recent report by IDTechEx. Haptic technologies have been used in products such as game console controllers for more than 30 years and can be found in the vast majority of smartphones, smartwatches, and electronic devices. Over the past five years, however, the research firm said it has observed a shift in the core haptic technology and “an even more significant shift in the direction of innovation efforts to develop the haptic technologies of the future.”

TDK, Boréas and Hap2U use piezoelectric haptic actuators. This approach compares with the more traditional haptic actuators: eccentric rotating mass (ERM) motor and linear resonant actuator (LRA). Asked about the piezoelectric haptics growth trend, Hayward said “we don’t expect piezoelectric actuators to be like-for-like replacements for ERM and LRAs, particularly in so-called inertial haptics (e.g. where the whole device is vibrated or moved to give a notification alert or click feedback).”

James Hayward, principal technology analyst at IDTechEx

Nonetheless, Hayward said he sees more opportunities for piezoelectric actuators “in specific applications such as button replacement (e.g. replacing volume, power, or home buttons on a smartphone or other devices) or surface haptics (e.g. on a display or laptop trackpad), which would be alongside inertial haptics, particularly in smartphones, or in devices that do not have existing inertial haptics (e.g. laptops or other electronic devices).”

In the report published last year, IDTechEx forecasted that the display and button haptics sectors combined would reach a total of around $300 million by 2030, “relative to a total haptics market of 4.8 billion”. But, Hayward explained this conservative prediction “still represents an entirely new market for haptics created over the next decade, as the majority of existing commercial examples of this are largely limited to concepts, demonstrations and tests only.”

Piezo, the return

Whether fairly or unfairly, Hayward explained, piezoelectric actuators had garnered quite a negative reputation for a few years until relatively recently. “They had perceptions around high power consumption, poor reliability and some challenges because of the higher voltages required.”

In the past 2 to 3 years, these concerns have been significantly allayed, and several piezoelectric actuators are now looking “much more feasible again”. This change, the analyst highlighted, is coming from companies like Boréas with their new low-power driver architecture, alongside other competitors on the driver side and actuator players such as TDK.

“There is still some way to go as we are still short of seeing this momentum turn into significant commercial sales volumes, but the signs are looking positive for some new disruption,” he said.

Asked to comment more specifically on Boréas’ newest BOS1211 IC, Hayward said “the specs on the product, and particularly the low power consumption look very interesting, but the proof will come with the products that it can be deployed in.” Mid-2019, Boréas and TDK announced their collaboration to accelerate the adoption of piezoelectric haptic solutions in applications such as automotive displays and controls, wearables, smartphones and tablets. At the time, partners planned to develop the first low-power piezo driver IC for the larger members of the PowerHap family with maximum drive voltages of 120V. That’s the BOS1211 IC.

Hayward noted that other players such Aito offer “a more full-stack approach, and are targeting slightly different markets with a different strategy, but all of this momentum towards more commercial piezoelectric actuators should work in their [Boréas’] favor.”