Touch Technology Sensitizes Devices

Author: 
Bob Michaels
The R8C/33T microcontroller in the haptic system performs peripheral functions, creating embedded systems that combine user interfaces with system control functions.

Haptics may not be a household word, but it’s a concept known to one and all. Referring to the science of touch in real and virtual environments, it has concrete applications in the medical device realm—from surgical simulators to such medical devices as automatic electronic defibrillators (AEDs) and glucose monitors.

Renesas Electronics America has teamed up with Immersion Corp. to develop systems that provide haptic feedback, improving the interface between medical devices and patients. Based on Immersion’s TouchSense technology and a library of vibro-tactile haptic effects for touch surfaces and touch screens, the systems allow users to experience feedback from medical devices.

“For patients with impaired vision, receiving visual feedback from a device is not enough,” says Nelson Quintana, a senior marketing manager at Renesas. “Having tactile feedback provides added value.” Haptic feedback, adds Hendrik Bartel, senior product manager at Immersion, includes buttons with simple clicks or alerts that are activated when you touch the screen. “These alerts give you a sense of urgency, buzzing, or transitions when you change a page in your user interface.”

Immersion’s haptic player and haptic effects library are integrated into the Renesas microcontrollers, which translate vibrations from the library into pulse-width modulated signals to drive the offset-mass motor in the player, creating the vibrations the user senses. The R8C/3xT Touch controller has an on-chip sensor control unit that provides touch detection while reducing the need for external components. Touch is fully programmable, supporting multiple configurations such as keys, wheels, and sliders. Another controller, the R8C/33T, performs peripheral functions, creating embedded systems that combine user interfaces with system control functions.

“What’s unique about the Immersion/Renesas system is that it is prepackaged and ready for use by designers,” comments Mark Rootz, a senior marketing manager at Renesas. “Using this system, designers don’t have to come up with their own algorithms for vibrations, and they don’t have to develop their own microcontrollers to drive the system’s motor. The pulse-width modulation signals from the R8C controller drive Immersion’s motor.”

“We have been exposed to a wide variety of medical applications,” Rootz adds. “In a hospital setting, haptic feedback can deliver quiet monitoring at the patient’s bedside and in the surgical room.” Examples of such applications include fluid-monitoring, drug-delivery, and infusion-pump systems. In the area of home-use devices, haptics could enable patients to monitor their health by providing tactile feedback from common devices. “AEDs are an application that can benefit from haptics,” Rootz notes. “It could also help diabetics that have lost some of their senses.”

Renesas Electronics America
Santa Clara, CA
www.am.renesas.com

Immersion Corp.
San Jose
www.immersion.com