Apple has been working on delivering advanced haptics for some time now. Most recently Apple's new MacBook and MacBook Pro update introduced Force Touch to its trackpad. Of course haptics apply to a wide range of products from iDevices to Macs and beyond. In 2012 two Apple inventions were published that introduced us to a wildly intelligent multi-tiered haptics system working with elastic/flexible OLED displays and another that covered surface haptics. The buzz at one point in 2012 was that Apple was going to introduce an iPad with Senseg technology for texture. Of course that rumor never panned out but that didn't mean that Apple abandoned the idea of one day adding haptics that could include texture sensors. Today the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office published a patent application from Apple that reveals new advances in haptics that will allow users to feel cold steel or the heat of a hot cement surface on iDevice displays or advanced trackpads on MacBooks. In fact, Apple notes that in order to deliver the best haptic experience that could deliver such sensations, they'll introduce a trackpad surface made of diamond material which has very interesting properties. Are we getting closer to Apple delivering the next generation of haptics to Macs and iDevices? While only time will tell, the introduction of Force Touch this year shows us that Apple is on the fast track in delivering advanced haptic experiences.
Apple Invents an Advanced Trackpad for Tactile Sensation of Texture
Typically, touch surfaces are smooth surfaces constructed of various plastics, metals, or glass. The tactile characteristics of such touch surfaces may be limited by the physical characteristics of the materials utilized to construct the surfaces.
Apple's invention relates to systems and methods for simulating materials using touch surfaces. In one or more embodiments, a system for simulating materials using touch surfaces may include at least one touch surface, at least one actuator or at least one temperature control device, and at least one control unit. The control unit may control the actuator or the temperature control device to cause at least a portion of the touch surface to simulate a material.
Such control may include utilizing the actuator to vibrate at least a portion of the touch surface. Such haptic vibrations may simulate the tactile sensation of texture. In some cases, the vibrations may be varied over time, such as in response to one or more touches detected using one or more touch sensors.
Such control may also include utilizing the temperature control device (such as a Peltier device) to control the temperature of at least a portion of the touch surface in order to simulate the tactile sensation of the thermal conductivity of a material.
In some cases, the temperature control may be performed utilizing data from one or more temperature sensors to adjust the temperature of the touch surface. In some cases, the temperature may be varied over time, such as in response to one or more touches detected using one or more touch sensors.
In various implementations, the entire touch surface may be caused to simulate the material. However, in other implementations, the touch surface may include a plurality of regions that are each controllable. In some cases, each of the plurality of regions may include one or more actuators, temperature control devices, touch sensors, and/or temperature sensors. Further, in various cases, each of the plurality of regions may be simultaneously controllable to simulate different materials than one or more of the other regions – as shown in patent FIG. 2 below.
In various cases, a touch surface such as plastic may have multiple regions that are individually controllable and may include individually controllable actuators and/or temperature control devices.
For example, such regions may be individually controllable such that one region is controlled to simulate the rougher texture of wood and heated to simulate the relatively warmer temperature of wood while another region is controlled to simulate the smoother texture of metal and cooled (or heat sunk or otherwise heat dissipated or diffused) to simulate the relatively cooler temperature of metal. In this way, a single touch surface may be utilized to simulate multiple different materials simultaneously.
Future Trackpad using Diamond Material
Apple's patent FIG. 1B noted above describes the possible a layer of diamond material on top of the touch surface of the trackpad. Apple notes that the diamond material may be a layer of chemical vapor deposited diamond, such as a layer of carbon vapor deposited diamond. Such a layer of diamond may provide extremely high thermal conductivity (which may exceed that of copper by approximately a factor of five), extreme mechanical hardness (providing exceptional wear resistance), and/or optical broadband optical transparency (being transparent from approximately ultraviolet to far infrared).
Apple notes that the control unit #109 of the trackpad, shown above in FIG. 1C, may cause the actuator to vibrate more to simulate rougher materials and less to simulate smoother materials. When simulating a material as smooth or smoother than the materials form which the touch device is actually made, the control unit may not cause the actuator to vibrate. The control unit may increase the vibrations provided by the actuator in response to the touch sensor detecting that a user's finger is pressing with increase force on the touch device in order to simulate the application of increased force to the texture of the material.
The temperature control device #104 may be operable to control the temperature (such as by increasing, decreasing, and/or maintaining the temperature) of the touch device. This control may be accomplished by heating, cooling, sinking heat, dissipating or diffusing heat, activating fans or other cooling mechanisms, and so on. Such temperature control may simulate the tactile sensation of the thermal conductivity of a material. The temperature control device may control the temperature of the entire touch device or just one or more portions of the touch device.
For example, an actuator that produces heat during operation may cause the temperature of a touch surface to be warmer than the temperature of a cement surface in order to produce sufficient vibration to simulate the texture of the cement.
Apple notes that their new invention could apply to a MacBook, the iPhone, an iPad, an iMac, the Apple Watch (wearable device) and even extend to use in an automobile or a kitchen appliance.
Apple's patent FIG. 3 is a flow chart illustrating a method for simulating materials using touch surfaces.
Apple credits Paul Puskarich as the sole inventor of patent application 20150109215 which was originally filed in Q4 2013. Considering that this is a patent application, the timing of such a product to market is unknown at this time. To view other haptic patents on record, see our Haptic and Tactile Archive
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