ALPSALPHAINE

# 5

Partnership with Academia

Feel Expertise Broadened and Enriched by Collaboration with Academia and the Corporate World

Alps Alpine directs effort into strengthening the competitiveness of HAPTIC™ products, as well as building up a platform of technological expertise for those endeavors. Here we introduce activities we undertake to further enhance our feel creation, including research through industry–academia partnership with scientific or academic bodies and collaboration with companies, both domestic and foreign.

JST ACCEL R&D Project Based on Haptic Primary Colors

The Japan Science and Technology Agency (JST) runs an innovation-oriented strategic basic research program known as “ACCEL.” Alps Alpine has been involved in research and development activities of one ACCEL project – Embodied Media Technology Based on Haptic Primary Colors (2015–2020) – since the very start of development activity. Susumu Tachi, professor emeritus of the University of Tokyo, heads the project, which has attracted leading researchers in the field, including professors Kouta Minamizawa of Keio University, Hiroyuki Shinoda of the University of Tokyo and Hiroyuki Kajimoto of the University of Electro-Communications.

ACCEL supports societal implementation and industrial deployment of innovative research. Advancements are anticipated in implementation of telemedicine, remote control and telexistence, fields where the quantification and communication of feel will be essential. The Embodied Media Project conducts research based on the principle of “haptic primary colors” whereby – in similarity to the conventional three primary colors – elements such as pressure, vibration and temperature are combined to enable quantification and transmission of various types of feel. Alps Alpine took on development of a module that could present two of these elements, vibration and temperature, and managed to create a “Two Tactile Sensations Presentation Module” incorporating a HAPTIC™ Reactor and a number of Peltier devices. The module enabled tactile sensations previously unavailable in the commercial market and achieved size reductions and power savings supporting use in diverse fields.

Through the ACCEL program, which looked to speed up innovation in a variety of domains, such as virtual reality, remote control and telexistence, Alps Alpine further enriched its feel expertise for application to its HAPTIC™ offerings.

The tactile sense broken down and synthesized based on principles of human perception, in the same way as the three primary colors of vision

Development of a New Kinesthetic Force Feedback Device –
HAPTIC™ Trigger

Alongside research and development for ACCEL, Alps Alpine developed HAPTIC™ Trigger. This original new type of device uses actuator control to convey various kinds of kinesthetic (haptic) sensations to users’ fingers as feedback. It infuses the worlds of games and virtual reality with richer, more realistic kinesthetic sensations, such as the difference in feel between pistols and machine guns, or the feeling of no response after a machine gun runs out of ammunition. It can also recreate varying degrees of yielding, or collapse, and repulsion when holding fruit or gummies, for example, between your fingers.

We also tried combining the HAPTIC™ Trigger with the Two Tactile Sensations Presentation Module we developed for the ACCEL project as a way of achieving presentation of all three haptic primary colors – pressure, vibration and temperature – and managed to realistically recreate the hardness or softness, temperature, operating feel and other expressions of the feel of items. A demo set we manufactured could recreate and convey the feel of a hard cup of hot tea, a cup of chilled water with ice clinking on the inside, and the softness of a dog to the touch, as well as its beating heart. Not only that, with a single device we could also create illusions of the tactile sense (tactile illusions), like feedback to fingers conveying the feel of a snowman’s rough surface.

In other joint research, pursued with the Keio University Graduate School of Media Design, we manufactured a demo set featuring a controller containing both a HAPTIC™ Trigger and the Two Tactile Sensations Presentation Module. It links to a robot arm, communicating feel remotely and in real time. The robot arm moves as the user operates the controller to perform actions like grasping an object. And any information about pressure, vibration or temperature sensed by the robot as it grasps the item is relayed to the user’s hands via the controller.

Affective Engineering Research in Partnership with University Labs

Alps Alpine is advancing efforts to build up a hierarchical system of technologies encompassing know-how in the field of feel creation relating to HAPTIC™ and other human-machine interface (HMI) offerings. We also engage in ongoing research in the area of affective engineering through industry-academia partnerships with a number of university research laboratories.

The aim of affective engineering is to translate the qualitative nature of the way humans feel into quantitative physical terms for application to product creation. One research project involved analyzing the relationship between words people use to express how they feel about something – good, bad, pleasant, unpleasant – and physical quantities used to design HMI devices, like travel, weight and torque. Other research underway looks to tie affective requirements to development by statistically quantifying, for example, how physical stimuli is converted into a physiological reaction when a switch is pressed, as well as the words people use to describe how they feel.

Alps Alpine’s aim is to take all this know-how we have accumulated over so many years and use it, along with new development techniques backed by such research, to create, with greater efficiency and accuracy, the ideal feel that customers are looking for.

Collaboration with Domestic and Foreign Manufacturers

In order to be able to extract the full potential of HAPTIC™, it is essential that we look beyond the hardware to seek effective integration of software, control algorithms and middleware, too. Here, Alps Alpine engages in collaboration relating to HAPTIC™ with leading corporations both in Japan and overseas.

In October 2019, Alps Alpine entered into a joint collaboration agreement on HAPTIC™-related product creation with Immersion Corporation (United States). Then in April 2020, we signed a license agreement covering use of Immersion’s Active Sensing™ technology, enabling evolved feel expression, with aims to strengthen business in the automotive HMI domain. Immersion is a world leader in touch feedback and its technology has been adopted in more than 3 billion products. Alps Alpine has teamed up with Immersion to develop a number of products over the years, including the HAPTIC COMMANDER™, the world’s first tactile sensation device for automobiles, launched in 2001. Under the latest agreements, our companies will work together on haptics innovation, combining HAPTIC™ with Immersion’s advanced software and control algorithms, and create products delivering the superior user experience that is essential for the next generation of automobiles and new emerging services.
Alps Alpine is also collaborating with one of Japan’s leading middleware makers, CRI Middleware Co., Ltd. It could be considered the ideal match-up for carrying out development of products that engage the tactile sense – the pairing of Alps Alpine, with its extensive feel expertise, and CRI Middleware, which specializes in the audio and video domains but has made aggressive inroads into tactile effects in recent years. We have our sights on diverse markets, including amusement and healthcare sectors on top of gaming, virtual reality and other elements of the entertainment domain.

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