Wearable Tech World Feature Article
July 24, 2014

Force Illusions Offer a New Means to Interact With Wearables

While wearable technology is certainly catching on in its own right, there are some who look at the whole thing and see a certain level of similarity with everything being offered. Most wearable devices go on the wrist, most have a screen display, most have to connect to a smartphone, and the list goes on. But there are some differences within the field that certainly offer a note of help here, and a new development currently in the making in Japan may give wearable tech a whole new level of interactivity with a phenomenon being called “force display.”

Two Japanese researchers—Tomohiro Amemiya from NTT Communication Science Laboratories and Hiroaki Gomi—are set to present the first results of this phenomenon at an event next month, and the phenomenon posed here may well change at least some parts of wearable tech as they are known today. What the duo found was that a vibrating object, when held, is commonly perceived by the user to be pulling or pushing in one direction or another when the vibration takes place, referred to by some as a “force illusion”.

More specifically, according to reports, when vibrations are generated asymmetrically at a 10 hertz frequency, there's a sensation on the holder's part that the device is vibrating specifically in a certain direction, particularly, the direction at which the vibrations are the sharpest. While Amemiya's original prototype was about the size of a paperback novel and used a crankshaft to generate the effect, the most current versions are about the size of a wine bottle's cork, using a 40 hertz actuator like those found in smartphones to generate the effect.

This seems to have a lot of value as a navigational tool, whether in gaming to help users find a way around the various dungeons, fields and the like that need to be traversed on a regular basis, or in real life to help users find a way to Starbucks. Having a device worn on the wrist that seems to be pulling in a particular direction—a kind of haptic feedback--that mirrors the way that should be traveled has quite a bit of impact. It's one thing to see an arrow on the screen pointing to the left, but it's another altogether to feel the device tugging to the left when it's time to make a turn.

While it might sometimes seem like the developments in wearable tech are all starting to look a bit similar, it's differences like these that help to distinguish products in the marketplace and make the whole thing more valuable to the user.

Wearable Tech Expo this week at the Javits Convention Center in New York City highlighted a host of developments from names in the field and displayed just how far this market could really go in terms of not only form factor, but also in terms of sheer functionality.

Edited by Stefania Viscusi

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