Automotive Interiors World recently had the honor of being the media partner for Grewus’s inaugural interACTIVE HAPTICS Conference (iAHC) 2023. Held in Hamburg, Germany, on June 14 and 15, and featuring specialists in innovative acoustic components and haptic actuators, the conference successfully brought together more than 80 haptic experts from disciplines ranging from academia and gaming to automotive OEMs and Tier 1 and 2 suppliers. Delegates, speakers and exhibitors all praised this unique opportunity to collaborate and be in dialogue with one another, discussing which aspects need to be considered when integrating haptics into an application – in terms of how the design, the UI, the UX, the sensors, the mechanics, the driving and the actuator interact.
Attendees included haptics engineers, scientists and experts from Audi, Avnet Embedded, BCS AIS Radolfzell, BeStar Technologies China, BeStar Technologies America, BHTC, BHTC Finland, BMW Munich, Dätwyler Schweiz AG, D-Box, Dell, Dräxlmaier, DVN Driving Vision News, Eissmann Automotive, FAU Erlangen Nürnberg, Fischer Automotive, Gaiker, Gruner, Hamsø Engineering, Hapticlabs, Hella Innenleuchten, Hertz Systemtechnik, Innovobot, Kostal, Haptics Alliance (Leonhard Kurz, Poly IC, Signata, XeelTech), Marquardt, Miniswys, Next System, Nissha, NMB Minebea, Qorvo, Osram, Razer, Sensit, TouchNetix, Tricas, TUHH, Valeo Bietigheim, Veigel Automotive, VW, Yanfeng and Zabel Technik.
A fantastic iAHC itinerary: The event was a fabulous occasion from start to finish. The two-day conference began with a special evening reception for all guests at Alsterlagune Hamburg on Tuesday, June 13 before the two-day conference started on Wednesday, June 14 and ended on Thursday, June 15.
Day 1: Haptic feedback for safety, UX and brand personalization within automotive HMI, ADAS and the increasing gamification of cars/AVs
The conference took place at the historic Gastwerk Hotel, a 120-year-old industrial building and former gas plant. The tone was set with an opening presentation from Elisa Santella, one of the founding members of Grewus and managing director since 2017. Responsible for automotive haptic key accounts, Elisa also serves as an automotive WG chair and board member for the Haptics Industry Forum and was the industrial chair of EuroHaptics 2022. Discussing haptic trends in automotive HMIs, she revealed, “Used correctly, haptic feedback provides a positive user experience, minimizes user error and emphasizes the action being performed. Active haptic actuators ‘simulate’ electromechanical switches’ feel or enhance artificially generated feedback and interaction with an electronic interface. The feedback is critical to the control, safety and comfort of the driving experience.”
Her presentation demonstrated that haptic technologies in pedals, seatbelts, steering wheels and seats can provide driver feedback for various actions and are integrated into lane-assist, distance warning and other features. Designers and engineers increasingly incorporate haptic feedback into the vehicle’s HMI. As a result, drivers do not have to take their eyes off the road as often, which improves overall driving safety. In addition to improving safety features, haptic technology enables greater personalization of the driving experience. Haptic feedback can be defined, modified and controlled by software, offering designers endless configuration options and a flexible, individualized driving experience.
Elisa also spoke on how OEMs are increasingly using connectivity and digitalization in car interiors, with trends being multimodal HMI and autonomous driving. She explained, “The cockpit of the future will become an extended living room, workspace and virtual social environment. Passengers will expect entertainment and gaming in the car. Looking to the future, the quality of XR experiences offered in autonomous vehicle cabins will provide a new dimension of brand experience and differentiation between OEMs.” Her talk was followed by a presentation from scientist-turned-entrepreneur Eric Vezzoli from Razer, who looked at unlocking the power of haptic technology in gaming.
A fascinating point of discussion during the conference was how psychology and human perception could influence and improve haptic design.
Stefan Breitschaft, a specialist in haptics and acoustics control panels at BMW Group, gave his first academic talk on ‘From sensation to experience: a psychological turn in haptic design’. His goal was to depict how an experience- and psychologically (and not purely engineering) driven mindset has a beneficial impact on effective haptic design. “The haptics community is a melting pot of professionals from different academic and applied disciplines with varying levels of expertise,” he explained. “Haptic design is inevitably interdisciplinary. This does not mean abandoning an engineering approach to haptics but rather leveraging the strengths that all involved disciplines bring to haptic design.”
To complement Stefan’s talk, Philipp Beckerle, head of the chair of autonomous systems in the Electrical engineering and artificial intelligence in biomedical engineering departments at FAU Erlangen-Nürnberg, spoke on the human perception of haptics, outlining different facets of haptic perception, with an emphasis on psychological aspects and how those could be used in systems engineering. He went on to say, “Psychological concepts and experimental designs can help to comprehend the perspective of the users and probe the impact of different haptic interface designs on discriminative and affective touch. Haptics is a remarkable modality to push human-system interaction. Human-in-the-loop tests extend such experiments to online interaction studies, which empowers users to provide early and continuous input to yield human-centric solutions.”
Other speakers on Day 1 included Philipp Sachs, COO of the Haptics Alliance (XeelTech) – a conference sponsor – on ‘Collaborative innovations for immersive HMI solutions’. He spoke about the challenges faced in realizing truly immersive HMIs and offered valuable insights into the future of haptic technology. Wolfgang Clemens, director of product management and business development at PolyIC, and Jörg Stierand, head of divisional sales at Leonhard Kurz Stiftung, presented together on ‘Smart integrated touch solutions for HMI surfaces in automotive and home appliances’.
Haptic feedback is becoming the expectation in smart surfaces, touch panels and general interfacing. Iyad Nasrallah, a product line manager at conference sponsor TouchNetix, emphasized the importance of reducing response latency in order for haptic feedback to fully replace mechanical feedback. His talk highlighted how the aXiom product range can bring capacitive touch, air gestures, force sensing and haptics into a unique, highly configurable single-chip solution.
Day 1 ended with a gala dinner at the Historischer Speicherboden, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Guests were treated to a buffet dinner and rare, two-hour private access to the world-famous Miniatur Wunderland, a top tourist attraction. The bridge connecting ‘South America’ and ‘Provence’ boasts a unique view of the Speicherstadt and has won the German Bridge Construction Award.
Day 2: ‘Get active’ – using haptics to create a more human, realistic user experience
Following a fascinating first day, the more practical second day began with a presentation on functional haptic integration from Grewus engineer and managing director Ralf Sandome, who looked at mechanics, sensing, measuring, actuating and driving for haptic applications. He was followed by Professor Thorsten A Kern from Hamburg University of Technology on ‘Vibrotactile actuators – how to quantify their performance for a more general applicability’.
Morten Rothmann, CEO of Hamsø Engineering, then addressed options for haptic integration, with each technology coming with different hardware driving circuits. He explored footprint, signal driving, technology advantages/disadvantages and component selection. According to Matej Mraz, a software developer at Hamsø Engineering, the conference showed “the importance of collaboration between companies, where they want to integrate haptics, mechanical and surface vibration while dampening unwanted vibrations. If mounted, they should be isolated and rigid but flexible to allow vibration as users press hard on the screen. Development time can be cut down through collaborative events like this.”
Measuring active haptic feedback was investigated by Anouschka Esselun, an acoustics and haptics engineer at Grewus. Her goal was to enable the optimization of haptic systems, ensuring a more immersive and realistic user experience. Together with Daniel Santella, a product manager at Grewus, she also hosted a workshop titled ‘Let’s become ACTIVE now – from theory to practice’.
Berlin-based designer, researcher and mechanical engineer Daniel Shor explored haptics language and design rules. As research director – Europe at Innovobot, Daniel blends human contact and experiential context to build the future of haptic technology, focusing on developing devices that stimulate human connection and behaviors through vibrotactile feedback. His presentation looked at how designers must find ways to communicate content, context, urgency and more in a simple set of pulses and vibes; for instance, how intuitive, interpretable messages can be understood through the low bandwidth of our skin.
Daniel also hosted a hands-on workshop for the delegates, showing designers how to use design thinking techniques and user research to improve the effectiveness and intake rate of vibrotactile notifications, thereby creating empathy with their users.
Following the success of this inaugural and unique conference, keep an eye out for the next iAHC!