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Surface haptics


Surface haptics is the creation and application of programmable haptic effects on physical surfaces such as touch screens and touch pads.  This tutorial has been designed for those who want an introduction to the existing and ongoing research in this field, those who want to learn the art of building friction-reduction devices (TPaDs), and those who want to engage in a discussion of where the field is headed.  Plenty of hardware will be on hand to inspire ideas and possibly even some real-time prototyping.  The tentative agenda is shown below, but we would like to tailor it to the audience as much as possible.  If you sign up for this tutorial, please email Michael Wiertlewski (wiertlewski [at] northwestern [dot] edu) with your thoughts:  What are you hoping to get out of this workshop?  What would make it a successful experience for you? 


Surface Haptics:  An Overview

In contrast to traditional force feedback haptics, surface haptic interactions: 1. involve bare fingertips that are free to move relative to the haptic device and 2. exist in two-dimensions rather than three.  These two characteristics have shaped the development of the field, leading to innovations in how to produce surface haptic effects, as well as what types of experiences to create with these effects.   This overview, therefore, will address both technological and perceptual aspects of surface haptics.  We will review vibrotactile, shape-changing, and force feedback (including variable friction) technologies.  Given our own expertise, the latter topic will be treated in the greatest depth.  We will go on to address perception in the surface context, focusing principally on single-finger and multi-finger illusions.


Building TPaDs:  a Deep Dive

The TPaD Tablet is an open hardware surface haptics device ( that you can build yourself.  In this part of the workshop, we will show you how.  We’ll cover working with glass and piezos, designing and building electronics, working in the Android development environment, and considerations for writing applications. We’ll also explain how to go beyond the TPaD Tablet so that you can design your own TPaDs for surfaces both large and small.  We’ll present a theoretical framework and tools for design optimization.



Experience Design for Surface Haptics

Once the question of how to produce surface haptic effects has been answered, there remains the much deeper question of how to design meaningful, useful, and satisfying experiences.  We’ll begin this part of the workshop with a brief review of our own research and insights, and then we’ll break up into smaller interest groups to brainstorm and discuss topics such as accessibility, usability, social interaction, and entertainment.  Each group will have a facilitator as well as a TPaD Tablet for inspiration and for testing quick mockups. 


The Future

The workshop will close with brief reports from each breakout group as well as a few of our thoughts on future research opportunities and priorities.




Northwestern University

  •  Ed Colgate
  • Michael Wiertlewski
  • Daniele Leonardis
  • Steven Manuel
  • David Meyer
  • Joe Mullenbach
  • Craig Shultz


Disney Research

  • Ali Israr