Haptic thumbsticks add pull and stretch feedback to game controllers

first_imgIf you don’t count motion control, game controllers have remained quite stagnant in their development in recent years. Sony has stuck with its tried-and-tested DualShock design and seen sense by adding a second thumbstick to the PS Vita, Microsoft tweaked its Xbox controller for the 360, and Nintendo has for the most part stuck with what works, although that 3DS add-on stick (Circle Pad Pro) shows they forgot something when designing the handheld. When it comes to feeding back information to the player, we still rely on a vibration unit inside the controller. It can “beat” in many different ways, but is quite limited if you want to give a very specific response to what’s happening in any given game.A team of engineers at the University of Utah think they can do better, and have developed a new tactile feedback thumbpad of sorts. If used as part of a game controller, it will supplement vibration feedback by stretching the user’s skin on their thumb tips in very specific ways. The thumbpads actually take the form of nubs that are not dissimilar to the red TrackPoint found on Thinkpad laptops. The difference here is the nubs can move on their own, stretching the skin on the thumb that wrests on each one. In so doing, different stretches and pulls can be used to signify feedback. So far, the team have developed 5 types of feedback including bouncing, pulsing, waves, circular motion, and crawling (sensation like dragging your thumb across a surface).The nubs are capable of feeding back the sensation of hitting something (collision feedback), being hit (being shot or punched), crawling along the floor, floating on water, as well as giving directional information too. For example, if you are hit from the right, the right nub will give your thumb a push to inform you where the shot came from.The good news is, because the nubs are so small they can be mounted on to existing controller designs. So the thumbsticks on a DualShock controller could have these nubs added without changing their functionality, and hopefully remaining comfortable for the user to interact with.Microsoft has already been approached and shown the technology, and they want to know more. Tests have also been carried out during this year’s Haptics Symposium, and gamers’ feedback showed the nubs worked even if thumbs are angled on the thumbsticks.The haptic technology will be on show at GDC this week, and is sure to get some interest from hardware manufacturers. Incorporating the tech into controllers is expected to add around $15 to their price. Considering the potential for additional feedback, that may be a price console manufacturers are willing to split with consumers.Read more at Utah University News Center, via BBC Newslast_img read more