"Tactile Displays"

Hey everyone,

I'm looking for some primary feedback on a project I'm designing. Inspired by David Eaglemans Neosensory - a company making vests for the deaf or hearing impaired - I'd like to build a belt or armband with simple coin vibration motors that can provide passive information to the wearer. I believe encoding numbers as vibrations should be a relatively simple place to start while providing some useful information like the current time, direction to the degree, speed, temperature etc. A decent proof of concept basically.

My thinking is that a single motor is essentially a 'switch' (although intensity can be modulated to give more 'steps' to the switch, I'm going to ignore it for now as some research suggests it can be hard to differentiate vibration intensity) so it can basically become a Morse transmitter. Morse code has an effective WPM of 30-50 once you're proficient at it with a single switch and I imagine that WPM grows quickly as you add more motors. If WPM increases linearly with number of motors the average human reading speed of 200 WPM can be achieved with just 6 inputs - though I admit that's a complete guess and I'm sure its more complicated than I'm imagining it does give me hope that this will one day work for all information, not just numbers. Brain plasticity means that a new way (not Morse) to encode information to vibrations can also be applied and trained for, potentially increasing definition and WPM as well which is something I'll be considering.

There have been plenty of papers over the years on what the researchers call "Tactile Displays", mostly focused on sensory substitution, and they all seem to agree that this is possible. I'm wondering if any of you have pursued anything similar and what the roadblocks you ran into were - or what difficulties you believe there could be with a device like this. I'm not a coder or an engineer, I haven't done the maths on power usage and I've never worked with a motor controller. Although I am willing to build it and find it doesn't work, it seems like the sort of thing this forum might know something about before I start.


  • I wonder if maybe brail might be more efficient? Obviously it would be harder to generate the haptic signals, but with different motors operating on a grid it should be doable.

  • I'm wondering if any of you have pursued anything similar

    I did an undergraduate research project at my university on haptic display. I wanted to demonstrate a learning effect on haptic devices, then measure the information density that could be crammed into a single point of haptic contact. I chose this constraint because there's only one vibrator in today's smartphones and smartwatches. If we can take advantage of that single point, then there's no need to buy or make extra equipment! right? So I started developing an app to teach the wearer a language with a few words. There was a little tamagachi type avatar on the watch that would ask you for things by buzzing, then you'd have to pick the right thing from a list. The little pet is pleased if you guess right, or gets sad and asks again if you guess wrong.

    and what the roadblocks you ran into were

    Yeah. I was developing on pebble. Semester was nearing the end and I was barely keeping on track with my project timeline. Pebble announced it was closing its doors and all online services. I scrambled to set up my own development server and with that consuming my already limited time, I was unable to finish my project and I wasn't awarded any credit for my semester of work. D'X what a waste.

    I was hoping to test this on human subjects, so I had bought four identical watches that I now can't get rid of. Might pick up this project again some day. But now that there's no demand for Pebble apps (and I can't afford other popular models ((looking at you, Apple)) ), it isn't really a high priority. :P

  • > @TurtleDynasty said:

    > Pebble announced it was closing its doors and all online services. I scrambled to set up my own development server

    Man, that's gotta trump all of my excuses for being behind on delivering electronic project, that's such a crappy way to have your (pretty dope sounding) project killed haha
  • You can mod an 3v 8mhz arduino to run on under 5mah of power. 5v at 16mhz can be done under 15mah. They are pretty good power wise but get bulky if adding wifi, bluetooth.

    An ESP2666 can run under 90mah and has the wifi built in, its nice and compact. You can put it into a deep sleep mode and use under 10mah. You can program it with the arduino IDE so its fairly easy.

    Do you need a motor controller to run the vibe? I've worked with steppers but not the small vibration motors. It feels like you could do a lot with just a basic on/off signal.

    Size wise its doable.
    Code wise its a nice project for building coding skills. Its enough to challenge but not drive you nuts.

    The basic concept is proven. I know what app on my phone is buzzing me bassed on pulses and duration.

    Give it a try.
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