Exploring Affective Communication Through Variable-Friction Surface Haptics (2014) 

Human touch conveys many social messages, including level of intimacy, hostility, and affiliation. Physical touch is a crucial aspect of most human relationships. While haptic interfaces have been shown to convey emotional information, the potential for surface haptic technologies to support person-to-person affective communication has yet to be explored. Different than vibration feedback that is common in mobile devices and force feedback that is common in graspable devices such as joysticks, surface haptic technologies provide force feedback directly to the fingertip in form factors that are increasingly appropriate for mobile devices. This paper explores variable-friction technology for direct person-to-person communication and seeks insights into designing surface haptics for communication. While this technology has been used to improve navigation tasks on touch screens, the present study is the first known to explore haptic communication between two people using connected variable-friction tablet displays.  

Beyond application context, we also seek to explore how intimate communication, with its concerns of privacy, expression, and co-presence, might be better supported through touch. A brainstorming session of experts outside of the research team coupled with idea evaluation by the research team yielded three application ideas that were prototyped. These include haptic text messaging that enables users to embed haptic patterns within traditional text messages, haptic image sharing where users annotate and exchange images with a range of haptic textures, and haptic virtual touch where users move their fingers on their personal displays while seeing and feeling their partner’s touch simultaneously.  

The technology used in this study is a TPad Tablet (tactile pattern display) which is a self-contained, handheld device incorporating a haptic surface above a touchscreen tablet]. The feeling of a variable-friction TPad surface is not simply that of vibration. Rather, the coefficient of friction, and therefore the resistance force can be varied as the fingertip slides across the screen, creating perceptions of shape and texture. This means, for example, that the device can visually and haptically display a slider that resists and then releases as it unlocks, or a textured button that grabs the finger to confirm that it is currently selected.  

Award: Best Paper Honorable Mention

Citation: Joe Mullenbach, Craig Shultz, J. Edward Colgate, and Anne Marie Piper. 2014. Exploring affective communication through variable-friction surface haptics. In Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI '14). Association for Computing Machinery, New York, NY, USA, 3963–3972. DOI:https://doi.org/10.1145/2556288.2557343