Games

Prototype control pad offers generational leap in tactile feedback for games

Prototype control pad offers g...
The prototype control pad uses "tactors", independently-moving tactile feedback sticks that stretch the skin of the thumb
The prototype control pad uses "tactors", independently-moving tactile feedback sticks that stretch the skin of the thumb
View 5 Images
An earlier prototype of the device
1/5
An earlier prototype of the device
Warning: extended use results in transparent thumbs ( ... not really, of course)
2/5
Warning: extended use results in transparent thumbs ( ... not really, of course)
Computer science doctoral student Ashley Guinan tests an earlier version of the prototype
3/5
Computer science doctoral student Ashley Guinan tests an earlier version of the prototype
A game demo developed by the researchers uses the tactors to indicate the tension in a fishing line (clearly, this isn't how to use the device for optimum tactile feedback)
4/5
A game demo developed by the researchers uses the tactors to indicate the tension in a fishing line (clearly, this isn't how to use the device for optimum tactile feedback)
The prototype control pad uses "tactors", independently-moving tactile feedback sticks that stretch the skin of the thumb
5/5
The prototype control pad uses "tactors", independently-moving tactile feedback sticks that stretch the skin of the thumb
View gallery - 5 images

A prototype control pad created by engineers at the University of Utah promises a generational leap in tactile feedback for video games over the rudimentary rumble-packs in use today. Using small, independently moving "tactors", perhaps best thought of as a thumb-stick within a thumb-stick, the engineers have simulated sensations such as collisions, crawling, and being buffeted by ocean waves.

Similar to the small pointing sticks (or nubs) that were relatively common mouse alternatives in laptops until fairly recently, the small red tactors stretch the skin of the thumb in different directions to induce sensation. In one fishing game demo demonstrated by the team, the tactor is used to indicate the tension in the fishing line. "As the fish jerks on the line, you can feel the tactor jerk under your thumb," said associate professor of mechanical engineering William Provancher.

In addition to developing the hardware the team has developed a library of "feedback modes" that might be used by games designers to deploy tactile feedback to common tasks. One such mode sees both the left and right tactors move up and down out of step, so that when the left tactor is up, the right is down. The mode might be used to mimic a prone soldier crawling on their belly, moving one arm after the other.

A crucial aspect of the development of the prototype was a study looking at how the thumb position of gamers affected the quality of the feedback. The tactors move up, down, right and left in the same direction as you would push a traditional game thumb-stick to move north, south, east and west. But gamers tend to place their thumbs on a thumb-stick at an angle of nearly 45 degrees for the most comfortable gaming grip. According to the findings presented by the researchers, gamers' brains "made the necessary mental rotations" such that performance was not affected.

"I'm hoping we can get this into production when the next game consoles come out in a couple of years," Provancher added. But in addition to the XBox 720 and PlayStation 4, Provancher has one eye on another lucrative market for the patent-pending device. The team also hopes the technology could be applied to a smartphone gaming peripheral, similar to the iCade Mobile but with tactor-thumb-sticks either side of the phone.

Previous research included a tactile steering wheel applying almost exactly the same idea, and Provancher hopes the research will have broader utility beyond the gaming sphere. "By placing skin-stretch feedback in a game controller, it creates a nice testing environment for understanding human perception and cognition," he said.

The researchers are presenting their prototype at the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers' Haptics Symposium in Vancouver between March 5 and March 7. Here's a demo of the prototype in use.

Source: University of Utah

Game Controller with Embedded Skin Stretch Feedback

View gallery - 5 images
1 comment
1 comment
johnweythek
eventually technology will make simple tasks unimaginably complex. if i want to fish with feedback i check the nearest waterhole. if i want to do something crazy like slay dragons or kill nazi-zombies, i'll sacrifice a little sensation and pick up a ps3 controller.