A lot of the gaming products at CES seem designed to smash your face in with awesomeness, whether it’s garish 3D OEM televisions or never-seen before tablet-devices, but Haptic tech company ViviTouch’s impressive technology is more subtle, but portends huge changes in the way we will play games.
The company behind ViviTouch (Artificial Muscle, a subsidiary of Bayer MaterialScience) is doing something really cool with an aspect of gaming you most likely take for granted: The rumble pack. If you’re a cutting edge gamer, you probably play games on a 1080p television, with sound provided by a 7.1 Dolby stereo system, but the rumble technology on your controller is essentially the same as it was 15 years ago on the PlayStation One – just an on-off switch that shakes your palm. ViviTouch, on the other hand, aims to translate thousands of sensations into a “versatile language of feedback.”
It works on a totally different principle from most rumble packs. Rather than swinging a weight around on a gear, ViviTouch uses technology that was originally developed for artificial muscle uses. Check out this video for a description of how the technology works:
I was a bit skeptical as to how much difference the technology would actually make before my meeting, but once I tried out an iPod Touch augmented with ViviTouch, it made instant sense. The device really does provide a different kind of tactile experience than a standard rumble. It’s much more nuanced, with different kinds of sensations instantly recognizable. It’s hard to accurately describe the difference in feeling, but it reminds me of hearing something in stereo as opposed to mono – it’s not like mono is unlistenable, but once you hear stereo, you don’t want to go back. Or maybe it’s like the difference between HD and regular definition.
Along with the obvious gaming and music applications, the differences in vibration are identifiable enough to provide customized vibrations for different phone functions. Pretty cool. Right now, the ViviTouch technology works by translating different kinds of sounds into vibrations, so bass tones create “bass-like” vibrations in your palms and higher tones create lighter touches, but the technology could easily work separately from the sound input to provide different sensations.
The demo on a mobile device was impressive, but once I got my hands on an Xbox controller outfitted with ViviTouch technology, I was completely sold. The demo showed various things happening on screen – A bass guitar playing, a motorcycle revving, a plane taking off, doors slamming, etc. – while the controller created note-perfect buzzes and shakes in the palms of my hands.
ViviTouch technology is currently available only in the form of a case for an iPod Touch – the very impressive Mophie Pulse, that combines portable stereo sound with the vibrations – but I can only assume that it will be available in more devices soon.
I asked Dirk Schapeler, CEO of Artificial Muscle, about what other devices we’d see ViviTech power in the future, and he had nothing to share with me right now, beyond saying that his company is talking to cell phone companies, game companies and anyone else who might benefit from it. Speaking as a gamer, I think controller companies would be crazy to not include this technology in their peripherals– once you try it, you’ll want it in your controller, trust me.