Haptic technology: how it will unlock the potential of touch in self-serve kiosks

Haptic technology: how it will unlock the potential of touch in self-serve kiosks

Photo courtesy of iStock.

Heather Macdonald Tait is a specialist in technology marketing at Ultrahaptics.

By Heather Macdonald Tait
Simple, intuitive user experiences are key to the success of self-service kiosks across all industries, from entertainment to ATMs, and from information portals to point-of-sale solutions. When interfaces are not intuitive, customers become frustrated, lines lengthen, and the need for support from representatives increases.

We have five senses, and when we interact with objects in the real world they all work together. Making interfaces multi-sensory — so that they better mimic this experience — is now understood by researchers to be one of the best ways to improve user experience. 

Haptic technology evolves

While sophisticated audio-visual technology is already part of self-serve kiosks, haptic technology — the creation of tactile sensations through electronics — has not yet been widely deployed. However, next-generation haptic technology, as Kiosk Marketplace predicted back in 2016, now looks set to enhance user experience by adding a new sensory dimension to self-serve kiosks.  

The haptics available in consumer electronic devices — most famously Apple's Taptic Engine — are based on "vibrotactile" effects created by actuators, which are tiny moving parts inside a device. Technical limitations, however, make actuators hard to integrate into larger or fixed screens.

New options emerge

New haptic technologies do not have the same limitations. Start-up Tanvas, for example, is using advanced electrostatics to create haptic sensations on touchscreens without the need for moving parts, and claims its technology is suitable for screens of any size or type.

Meanwhile, Ultrahaptics is pioneering mid-air haptics: the creation of tactile sensations in mid-air using ultrasound. This means that tactile sensations could hover above a touchscreen or be combined with 3D imaging for an even more futuristic interface. At CES 2018 in Las Vegas, Ultrahaptics, in collaboration with Japanese firm Asukanet, showed an ATM demo with holographic controls visitors could feel as well as see. 

"Throughout our entire lives, we try to understand things by touching, feeling and holding them," said Dr. Martin Grunwald, founder and director of the haptic research laboratory at Leipzig University. "We can differentiate between objects much better by touching things rather than just looking at them." 

An ATM with holographic controls was presented at the CES show in Las Vegas. Photo courtesy of Ultrahaptics.

Practical applications

Haptics sends a stream of complex and rich information to the brain, information that we can decode, and act on, largely without conscious thought. We know that incorporating this additional channel of communication into interfaces reduces both user error and the time needed to complete tasks. 

Not only that, but quantitative and qualitative studies from marketing show that incorporating haptics boosts consumers' connection to brands and increases purchase intent, and generates positive emotional reactions. Some even argue that touch may be the single best way to communicate emotion. 

New York Times bestselling author Dr. David Linden's book, "Touch: The Science of the Hand, Heart and Mind," describes touch as "the sense that makes us human."

Haptic technology is about to give users a new, more intuitive and more human way to engage with self-serve kiosk interfaces, and to connect with the brands and products behind them. 

Topics: Customer Experience, Interactive / Touchscreen, Manufacturers

Companies: Ultrahaptics

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