Saturday 12 December 2009

What's new in touch sensing mobile phones?

 I have worked on a lot of touch sensing technology. I am particularly interested in the remote transmission of touch and feeling over the web.  One device I invented and built in 2005  was  a "heartbeat mouse".  This allowed your heartbeat to be measured and replicated as a physical beat or thump on a computer  mouse with someone you are communicating to on the web, e.g.  a friend. It was possibly useful for Instant Messenger type applications.  I build a demo unit when I worked at Microsoft, the heartbeat being detected via optical sensors methods and the beat replicated using a magnetic mechanical actuator. Most people liked it, others thought it wacky, but I never patented it, and now in the public domain, so cannot be patented. It  is research that can be shared. Microsoft has deleted the web page that described it so I can't show the original  image.

click to enlarge - image shows mockup but real hardware built and tested 

However I am still asked about this design and how it might be useful for touch sensing applications.
 A possible answer is via mobile phones, you are holding the mobile phone and talking to friend but can it replicate the feel of holding hands? The mobile phone is a substitute for holding someone's hand.  You could  choose to share your heartbeat  and also that of remote friend by holding hands.  The mechanical actuation technology is much more advanced now, the Microsoft version just used an modified oscillating  relay with pulse width modulation (PWM)  control to replicate feelings.( Curiously, the prototype was rather good at synthesising the feel of a cat purr , as the software control of the PWM was very fine. ) There are more applications  for lie detection, medical apps,  games and other fun ideas. It is practical to transmit and replicate skin temperature and conduction.
The only reason the project resurfaced is now the new "smart" actuation technology I have been testing for another job has been built, gone are old solenoids and other magnetic actuators.  The new technology provide much more subtle vibration  finger stroking effects, is silent and very low power.
Email me if interested
Lyndsay Williams

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