Boréas Technologies Taps Piezos for Next-gen Haptic DevicesMay 18, 2021 by Jake Hertz
With a massive increase in wearable technology, engineers and designers rely on haptics to deliver the best user experience possible. Boréas Technologies aims to do just that.
In the past ten years, a big trend in consumer electronics has shifted to wearable devices. Between smartwatches, augmented reality headsets, and even smartphones (which may not be "wearable" but are constantly on our person), electronics have taken on new form factors, use cases, and demands.
A high-level chart of the design process of the haptics system. Image used courtesy of SIGMADESIGN
The basics of this trend are that electronics need not only be low power, small form factor, and functional but it must also provide a good user experience. One of the most popular ways these devices provide user experience is through haptics––either for notifications or in a feedback loop.
Boréas Technologies has been working on a new generation of haptics for UX and wearables and has come out with two exciting new products in the past month alone.
The Problem with Haptics Today
In modern haptic systems, the most popular forms of haptics are linear resonant actuators (LRAs) or eccentric rotating mass (ERMs); the former is most popularly used in smartphones. There are multiple issues with these devices that are now pushing researchers to look for new forms of haptics.
Looking inside an LRA. Image used courtesy of Texas Instruments
For starters, one of the more significant problems concerning these two forms of haptics is that the haptics' quality is directly tied to the device's volume and mass. As devices need to scale down to fit the demanding form factors of wearables, this could become a significant tradeoff for designers wanting as small of a design as possible but needing larger haptic devices for higher quality.
Beyond this, LRAs typically operate within a very narrow frequency range (around the device's resonance) to optimize power consumption. This range may be suitable for power, but it does not necessarily make for the best user experience, as human receptors tend to respond differently to different frequencies. For a device optimized for user experience, designers would benefit from operating over an extensive frequency range instead of the fixed range often used by LRAs.
One company that is working towards improving the user's experience of haptics is Boréas Technologies.
Boréa’s PHE uses the mass of internal components. Image used courtesy of Boréas Technologies
Its solution works by taking an off-the-shelf piezo actuator and leveraging the mass of other internal components to generate haptics.
This approach helps provide high performance at smaller sizes since the haptics relies on the mass of internal components, not the device itself, allowing for smaller devices.
According to the company, compared to LRA's, its PHE can achieve larger bandwidth (30-300 Hz), faster rise and fall times (both less than 1/5 of an LRA), and 10x better power efficiency.
Another New Product: NexusTouch
Following its April launch, Boréas Technologies has now released another new platform to control smart devices' touch controls.
Power consumption of haptic technologies. Image used courtesy of Boréas Technologies
This technology is a scalable high-voltage, low-power piezoelectric driver architecture optimized for fast response times and low power in a small form factor. According to the company, CapDrive blows away the haptic competition, with start-up times as little as 300us, low power, and the capability to provide HD haptics along with integrated pressure sensing.
NexusTouch uses this technology to enable gesture detection in a device's user interface. The platform can enable dynamic virtual button-mapping using localized haptics, allowing manufacturers to replace traditional mechanical buttons with area-specific system functionality and tactile effects.
Movement Towards User Experience
In many ways, electronics today have become more concerned with user experience than at any other time in history. To this end, technologies like haptics are becoming crucial to a good product that consumers will enjoy.
Continual developments in the field, like these from Boréas, are incredibly crucial to the development of consumer electronics. Should its new form of haptics be as good as Boréas claims, we may begin to see them integrated into many devices in the near future.
Featured image used courtesy of Boréas Technologies