An Open Supply Vibrotactile Haptics Platform for On-Physique Purposes


Most wearable good units and cell phones have the means to speak with the consumer via tactile suggestions, enabling purposes from easy notifications to sensory substitution for accessibility. Sometimes, they accomplish this utilizing vibrotactile actuators, that are small electrical vibration motors. Nevertheless, designing a haptic system that’s well-targeted and efficient for a given job requires experimentation with the variety of actuators and their areas within the gadget, but most sensible purposes require standalone on-body units and integration into small kind elements. This mixture of things will be troublesome to deal with exterior of a laboratory as integrating these programs will be fairly time-consuming and infrequently requires a excessive stage of experience.

A typical lab setup on the left and the VHP board on the fitting.

In “VHP: Vibrotactile Haptics Platform for On-body Purposes”, offered at ACM UIST 2021, we develop a low-power miniature electronics board that may drive as much as 12 impartial channels of haptic alerts with arbitrary waveforms. The VHP electronics board will be battery-powered, and built-in into wearable units and small devices. It permits all-day put on, has low latency, battery life between 3 and 25 hours, and might run 12 actuators concurrently. We present that VHP can be utilized in bracelet, sleeve, and phone-case kind elements. The bracelet was programmed with an audio-to-tactile interface to help lipreading and remained useful when worn for a number of months by builders. To facilitate better progress within the subject of wearable multi-channel haptics with the mandatory instruments for his or her design, implementation, and experimentation, we’re releasing the {hardware} design and software program for the VHP system through GitHub.

Back and front sides of the VHP circuit board.
Block diagram of the system.

Platform Specs.

VHP consists of a customized circuit board, the place the primary elements are the microcontroller and haptic amplifier, which converts microcontroller’s digital output into alerts that drive the actuators. The haptic actuators will be managed by alerts arriving through serial, USB, and Bluetooth Low Vitality (BLE), in addition to onboard microphones, utilizing an nRF52840 microcontroller, which was chosen as a result of it presents many enter and output choices and BLE, all in a small bundle. We added a number of sensors into the board to offer extra experimental flexibility: an on-board digital microphone, an analog microphone amplifier, and an accelerometer. The firmware is a transportable C/C++ library that works within the Arduino ecosystem.

To permit for speedy iteration throughout growth, the interface between the board and actuators is essential. The 12 tactile alerts’ wiring need to be fast to arrange in an effort to permit for such growth, whereas being versatile and sturdy to face as much as extended use. For the interface, we use a 24-pin FPC (versatile printed circuit) connector on the VHP. We help interfacing to the actuators in two methods: with a customized versatile circuit board and with a inflexible breakout board.

VHP board (small board on the proper) linked to 3 several types of tactile actuators through inflexible breakout board (giant board on the left).

Utilizing Haptic Actuators as Sensors

In our earlier weblog submit, we explored how back-EMF in a haptic actuator may very well be used for sensing and demonstrated a wide range of helpful purposes. As a substitute of utilizing back-EMF sensing within the VHP system, we measure {the electrical} present that drives every vibrotactile actuator and use the present load because the sensing mechanism. Not like back-EMF sensing, this current-sensing strategy permits simultaneous sensing and actuation, whereas minimizing the extra area wanted on the board.

One problem with the current-sensing strategy is that there’s a vast number of vibrotactile actuators, every of which can behave in a different way and wish completely different presets. As well as, as a result of completely different actuators will be added and eliminated throughout prototyping with the adapter board, it could be helpful if the VHP had been in a position to determine the actuator robotically. This is able to enhance the velocity of prototyping and make the system extra novice-friendly.

To discover this risk, we collected current-load information from three off-the-shelf haptic actuators and skilled a easy help vector machine classifier to acknowledge the distinction within the sign sample between actuators. The take a look at accuracy was 100% for classifying the three actuators, indicating that every actuator has a really distinct response.

Completely different actuators have a unique present signature throughout a frequency sweep, thus permitting for computerized identification.

Moreover, vibrotactile actuators require correct contact with the pores and skin for constant management over stimulation. Thus, the gadget ought to measure pores and skin contact and both present an alert or self-adjust if it’s not loaded accurately. To check whether or not a pores and skin contact measuring approach works in observe, we measured the present load on actuators in a bracelet because it was tightened and loosened across the wrist. Because the bracelet strap is tightened, the contact stress between the pores and skin and the actuator will increase and the present required to drive the actuator sign will increase commensurately.

Present load sensing is responding to the touch, whereas the actuator is pushed at 250 Hz frequency.
High quality of the match of the bracelet is measured.

Audio-to-Tactile Suggestions

To show the utility of the VHP platform, we used it to develop an audio-to-tactile suggestions gadget to assist with lipreading. Lipreading will be troublesome for a lot of speech sounds that look comparable (visemes), reminiscent of “pin” and “min”. As a way to assist the consumer differentiate visemes like these, we connect a microphone to the VHP system, which might then decide up the speech sounds and translate the audio to vibrations on the wrist. For audio-to-tactile translation, we used our beforehand developed algorithms for real-time audio-to-tactile conversion, accessible through GitHub. Briefly, audio filters are paired with neural networks to acknowledge sure viesemes (e.g., choosing up the arduous consonant “p” in “pin”), and are then translated to vibrations in several components of the bracelet. Our strategy is impressed by tactile phonemic sleeve (TAPS), nonetheless the key distinction is that in our strategy the tactile sign is offered constantly and in real-time.

One of many builders who employs lipreading in every day life wore the bracelet every day for a number of months and located it to offer higher data to facilitate lipreading than earlier units, permitting improved understanding of lipreading visemes with the bracelet versus lipreading alone. Sooner or later, we plan to conduct full-scale experiments with a number of customers sporting the gadget for an prolonged time.

Left: Audio-to-tactile sleeve. Center: Audio-to-tactile bracelet. Proper: Considered one of our builders checks out the bracelets, that are worn on each arms.

Potential Purposes

The VHP platform allows speedy experimentation and prototyping that can be utilized to develop methods for a wide range of purposes. For instance:

  • Wealthy haptics on small units: Increasing the variety of actuators on cell phones, which usually solely have one or two, may very well be helpful to offer further tactile data. That is particularly helpful as fingers are delicate to vibrations. We demonstrated a prototype cell phone case with eight vibrotactile actuators. This may very well be used to offer wealthy notifications and improve results in a cellular sport or when watching a video.
  • Lab psychophysical experiments: As a result of VHP will be simply set as much as ship and obtain haptic alerts in actual time, e.g., from a Jupyter pocket book, it may very well be used to carry out real-time haptic experiments.
  • Notifications and alerts: The wearable VHP may very well be used to offer haptic notifications from different units, e.g., alerting if somebody is on the door, and will even talk distinguishable alerts via use of a number of actuators.
  • Sensory substitution: Apart from the lipreading help instance above, there are a lot of different potential purposes for accessibility utilizing sensory substitution, reminiscent of visual-to-tactile sensing and even sensing magnetic fields.
  • Loading sensing: The flexibility to sense from the haptic actuator present load is exclusive to our platform, and allows a wide range of options, reminiscent of stress sensing or robotically adjusting actuator output.
Integrating eight voice coils right into a telephone case. We used loading sensing to grasp which voice coils are being touched.

What’s subsequent?

We hope that others can make the most of the platform to construct a various set of purposes. In case you are and have concepts about utilizing our platform or wish to obtain updates, please fill out this kind. We hope that with this platform, we may help democratize the usage of haptics and encourage a extra widespread use of tactile units.


This work was finished by Artem Dementyev, Pascal Getreuer, Dimitri Kanevsky, Malcolm Slaney and Richard Lyon. We thank Alex Olwal, Thad Starner, Hong Tan, Charlotte Reed, Sarah Sterman for priceless suggestions and dialogue on the paper. Yuhui Zhao, Dmitrii Votintcev, Chet Gnegy, Whitney Bai and Sagar Savla for suggestions on the design and engineering.