Engineers develop skin-stretching controller

Engineers develop skin-stretching controller

Provancher's prototype controller provides a new form of haptic feedback by stretching the skin of the thumbs.

Engineers at the University of Utah have developed a new game controller that takes feedback to new levels by physically stretching the skin on the tips of the thumbs.

Developed by William Provancher, associate professor of mechanical engineering at the university, and his students, the controller uses a pair of 'tactor' surfaces in the centre of each analogue stick to provide a novel form of haptic feedback.

Unlike traditional controllers, which limited feedback to vibration, the new controller is claimed to be able to provide a vastly greater range of feedback to the player. Games used with the prototype include a first-person shooter in which the tactor surfaces move back to mimic impacts, an ocean simulation in which horizontal motion is used to simulate waves and a fishing game in which subtle feedback tells the user when to strike.

'We have developed feedback modes that enhance immersiveness and realism for gaming scenarios such as collision, recoil from a gun, the feeling of being pushed by ocean waves or crawling prone in a first-person shooter game,' claimed Provancher of the invention. 'I'm hoping we can get this into production when the next game consoles come out in a couple of years.'

A study carried out by Provancher and students Ashley Guinan, Rebecca Koslover and Nathaniel Caswell suggests that the feedback works even though the user's thumbs are aligned inward when using the controller. Previously, prototypes had required that the thumbs be aligned in a straight direction to match up with the tactor pads.

The hand-held controller joins a previous prototype of Provancher's which took the form of a steering wheel which used the same skin-stretching technology to provide feedback on when to turn the wheel. During testing of that earlier device, Provancher proved that touch-based feedback can provide useful information even while other more obvious forms of feedback such as audio or imagery are present.

Thus far Provancher has not indicated whether any commercial manufacturers are interested in licensing the technology, which can be seen in operation in this demonstration video.


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damien c 6th March 2012, 12:58 Quote
Looks interesting.
Vo0Ds 6th March 2012, 13:00 Quote
Interesting indeed, I'd like to see more haptic feedback research on touchscreen devices to get them up to the feedback of buttons.
Fizzban 6th March 2012, 15:19 Quote
I would love to try this out. I hope they do get it in to production as they intend.
yassarikhan786 6th March 2012, 15:25 Quote
thehippoz 6th March 2012, 17:42 Quote
that sounds really cool.. I thought you were talking about mouth skin or something though- like whaatt!
Cerberus90 6th March 2012, 23:19 Quote
Don't understand this.

How can some thumbsticks give you any feedback similar to crawling along prone or make you feel like your in an ocean?

And, when you get shot, they what? Push back at your thumbs?
Sloth 6th March 2012, 23:29 Quote
Originally Posted by Cerberus90
Don't understand this.

How can some thumbsticks give you any feedback similar to crawling along prone or make you feel like your in an ocean?

And, when you get shot, they what? Push back at your thumbs?
It's likely similar to how vibration works for relaying information. It's not something which will make you feel exactly what's going on, but it can provide a sensation which is at least vaguely similar so the player's mind can relate it to the real thing. For example, crawling along the ground may involve some sort of alternating sensation on each thumb to emulate the character's arms and legs shimmying forward and back. Swimming in the ocean may be a more random and sporadic feel to emulate the effect of waves on the character. What's important is that the player can mentally relate a certain feedback with a certain in game event.

It's also almost certainly not mutually exclusive with vibration, so the two can be used together to provide a wide range of unique feedback for various situations.
Anneon 7th March 2012, 09:46 Quote
Think I caught haptic after a drunken night out once.

PingCrosby 7th March 2012, 15:00 Quote
Woohoo I can join the Fantastic Fou.........oh, just read the headline, bummer.
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