Quantifying the Targeting Performance Benefit of Electrostatic Haptic Feedback

Owning to their intuitive direct manipulation interactions and general interface flexibility, touchscreens have become pervasive. However, their flat surfaces offer no programmable haptic feedback. Of course, touch is one of our most fundamental senses and plays a crucial role in our interactions with the physical world, and as a consequence, there is a significant literature on haptic feedback technologies and their performance impact on interactive experiences.

One such haptic technology is electrostatic feedback, first discovered in 1954 by Mallinckrodt (then called “electro-vibration”). Put simply, by oscillating an electric charge behind a thin insulator, a capacitive object (e.g., a fleshy finger) can be attracted to the surface, though only at very close distances. By controlling the oscillations, one can control the friction between a finger and the surface. More recently, electrostatic has been adapted for use on touchscreens. These initial efforts have chiefly explored the technology for interactive, assistive, and entertainment purposes.

In this work, for the first time, we quantitatively evaluate how electrostatic force feedback can be used to enhance targeting performance on touchscreens. This directly complements prior experimental work that has studied other haptic feedback means. More specifically, we evaluated a series of haptic approaches in a head-to-head experiment. In addition to electrostatic feedback, we also tested designs with actual physical features, which serve as a gold standard. As a baseline control, we also included a plain (i.e., flat) touchscreen condition. Our main hypothesis was that electrostatic feedback would yield performance somewhere between no feedback and true physical feedback. The question was: where did electrostatic feedback lie within this spectrum?

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Reference

Zhang, Y. and Harrison, C. 2015. Quantifying the Targeting Performance Benefit of Electrostatic Haptic Feedback on Touchscreens. In Proceedings of the ACM International Conference on Interactive Tabletops and Surfaces (Madeira, Portugal, November 15 - 18, 2015). ITS ‘15. ACM, New York, NY. 43-46.

© Chris Harrison