ViviTouch haptic technology hands-on: electroactive polymer giving a 'high definition feel'

Haptic feedback isn't exactly something that'd blow people's mind these days, with most mobile devices and gaming controllers already packing a little vibrator to spice up one's gaming experience. While these motors do the job just fine for delivering the sensation of large engines and explosions, their monotonic performance and relatively high minimum output threshold means they can't reproduce finer vibration. For instance, you wouldn't be able to feel a guitar string fade away after a strum, nor would you feel the finer end of a spring recoil. This is where Bayer MaterialScience's ViviTouch -- previously dubbed Reflex -- tries to fill the void.

For those who aren't familiar, the magic behind ViviTouch is its electroactive polymer (or EAP in short) -- imagine a thin sheet that consists of two electrode layers sandwiching a dielectric elastomer film, and when a voltage is applied, the two attracting electrodes compress the entire sheet. This slim, low-powered ViviTouch actuator module can be placed underneath an inertial mass (usually a battery) on a tray, thus amplifying the haptic feedback produced by the host device's audio signal between 50Hz and 300Hz (with a 5ms response time).

Our first encounter with this haptic technology goes as far back as CES at the beginning of this year, where Mophie let us handle a prototype of its Pulse haptic game grip for the fourth-gen iPod touch. Our very own Myriam was impressed by this $100 peripheral (which is now available on Amazon), and so were some of us here at TGS on certain applications. We were most impressed by the pinball game demonstration using the Pulse, and even more so with a similar demo on a modified first-gen iPad that house two ViviTouch actuators -- there was certainly a more natural feel to the game, especially when the pinball hit the bumpers.

However, we had mixed feelings with the modified Xbox controller and Logitech G35 headphones. For the former, we're more used to strong rumbling produced by the built-in motor, but we can certainly see potential for games that feature more delicate actions with, say, musical instruments and elastic elements (think Angry Birds and World of Goo). Better yet, a combination of both ViviTouch and the usual vibration motor should fix each other's problem, but we'd imagine the ViviTouch module needs to be large enough in order to avoid being drowned out by its companion.

As for the headphones, we enjoyed the extra oomph provided by ViviTouch, but perhaps having the actuators right in the cushioned cups isn't the most effective way of providing haptic feedback, plus our ears were starting to feel itchy from the vibration. It'd be interesting to see if things improve by somehow placing the modules on the top of our heads or even on our neck -- get to it, engineers!