Texture Displays: A Passive Approach to Tactile Presentation

Despite touch being a rich sensory channel, tactile displays are almost exclusively vibrotactile in nature. Actuation is typically achieved with small vibratory (spinning) motors, like those found in cell phones, or piezoelectric buzzers. Although inexpensive and easy to deploy, these techniques have several significant limitations. First, noise is a common byproduct from the physical vibration of the device – it is not uncommon to hear a cell phone chattering on the surface of a table or against keys in someone’s pocket. This makes them more socially intrusive and potentially more attention demanding than they might otherwise be. Second, vibrotactile alerts are generally limited to short bursts of actuation (e.g., vibrate when there is an incoming call). They are not employed to persistently relate a state (e.g., a missed call). This is primarily because they are an active output technology – when on, they produce a stimulus to alert the user. To display a persistent state, they would have to be permanently active. However, not only would this be highly irritating and distracting to the user (e.g., a persistently vibrating sensation), but also prohibitively expensive power-wise for mobile devices.

To overcome some of these limitations and expand the possible design space for tactile output, we explore displays that can assume several different textural states (e.g., sticky, bumpy, smooth, course, gritty). In contrast to conventional vibrotactile approaches, these displays provide information passively. Only when they are explicitly handled by the user, either with intent to inquire about the information, or in the course of some other action, can state be sensed. This inherently reduces their attention demand and intrusiveness. We call this class of devices texture displays.



Harrison, C. and Hudson, S. E. 2009. Texture Displays: A Passive Approach to Tactile Presentation. In Proceedings of the 27th Annual SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (Boston, Massachusetts, USA, April 4 - 9, 2009). CHI '09. ACM, New York, NY. 2261-2264.

© Chris Harrison