Critical Year Ahead for Haptics as New Technologies Mature

Article By : John Walko

Haptic feedback is likely to be increasingly used in AR/VR, military gear, high-end industrial equipment, and advanced surgical robotic assistants...

The market for haptics technology is growing exponentially and is set to be worth almost $5 billion in 2025, according to a report published Tuesday (February 23rd) by Cambridge, UK-based consultancy firm IDTechEx Research.

The growth will be driven by its increasing use in smartphones, as far as volumes are concerned, but the technology is beginning to appear in other industry sectors and products where newer, more advanced haptics is making significant improvements in performance and versatility.

Some examples given in the report, titled Haptics 2021-2031: Technologies, Market & Players, include their use in military gear, for controlling high-end industrial equipment, and advanced surgical robotic assistants.

Emerging applications are coming to light in vehicular interfaces, replacing mechanical buttons and using the sense of touch for a safer, more reliable interface to the driver; and novel applications in VR, AR & MR (mixed reality), where haptic feedback serves the sense of touch, much as the displays and optics serve sight, or the audio feedback serves hearing.

And perhaps the most significant and widely used sector outside of smartphones comes within console gaming, where controllers deploy haptics to enhance player immersion.

According to the lead author of the report, James Hayward of IDTechEx, “this expansion in use cases is driven by the underlying actuator technology, where new types of actuators, drivers and systems enable the introduction of new effects and the creation of more product value using advanced haptics.

“However, with a variety of different markets requiring different types of haptic technologies, and evolution of these markets over time, we have witnessed a shift in in the direction of innovation efforts to develop the haptics technologies of the future.”

Hayward suggests this will be”a critical year for the industry”, with haptics being integrated into products spanning several industry verticals.

The Dual Sense controller for Sony’s PS5.

The report also suggests the current commercialization will drive interest in the next generation of haptics, fueling additional interest and investment into often parallel technologies that may serve as alternatives of ‘future options’ for these consumer product markets.

The report also highlights several significant challenges and opportunities for haptics. For instance, smartphones will likely remain the critical market for haptics, accounting for some 50% of total revenues in 2020 and allowing the industry to rise to ‘unprecedented’ sales volumes for a whole range of actuators.

In parallel, the launch of the PS5 with the DualSense controller last year is said to have driven a new focus towards haptics as it relates to console gaming and related interfaces. But as volume growth in these key sectors has plateaued, companies need to explore new opportunities where the technology can generate additional value.

For instance, Hayward notes that haptics has become a particular piece in the VR puzzle, which many of the leading players have identified as one of their key technology challenges.

Similarly, adoption of haptics in the automotive sector has started accelerating, from numerous systems for driver alerts to use in infotainment systems, and beyond.

The report stresses that the increasing investments in haptics drives progress throughout the value chain and that the needs from end-users in various industries are met by an array of different layers with different roles.” The result is a diverse ecosystem, driven by megatrends around enhanced interaction between humans and machines, but with more specific drivers within each market vertical.”

Hayward notes the company has been tracking the haptics sector for over 5 years, with parallel relevant technologies going back even further.

Thus the report considers various incumbent technologies, including the prominent electromagnetic actuators that dominate the market today, such as linear resonant actuators and eccentric rotating mass motors. But Hayward notes  it also delves into the many emerging more niche haptic actuator technologies, from other electromagnetic actuators such as voice coil motors and custom variants, and also takes in other technologies such as piezo electric actuators, shape memory alloys, and microfluidic systems.

Separately, Qualcomm has just announced (23 February) it is joining forces with haptic specialist Lofelt to bring advanced haptic to Android 12, offering the type of sensor touch experiences available to users of iPhones  to Google’s OS by breaking down some of the barriers erected by the latter’s open ecosystem.

The partners want to create a “universal haptic software framework” that runs only on Qualcomm’s Snapdragon mobile platform.

The take-up of haptics has also been boosted by the decision late last year of the MPEG (Motion Picture Experts Group) to work on the standardization of a haptics coding format and associated decoder.

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