Blog - How things got touchy at Integra

Blog - How things got touchy at Integra

The majority of us might not be familiar with the term ‘haptic technology’ but – if you’ve ever used a smartphone or tablet computer, certain ATMs or a self-service checkout at the supermarket – you’ve definitely been in touch with haptics. We get Product Design Engineer at Integra, Steven Parker, to provide a 101 tutorial.

Margaret Rouse – a writer and manager at whatis.com’s TechTarget – has described haptics as “the science of applying touch (tactile) sensation and control to interaction with computer applications.” Every time we open an app on our phones or type information into a search engine on a tablet computer, we’re using touch sensations to utilise a range of applications.

Haptic technology isn’t necessarily new. Early use of haptic technology actually dates back to the early 1990s when companies like Nintendo incorporated touch into the Nintendo 64 Rumble Pack console, and automobile and medical equipment manufacturers began to develop haptic-based applications in new hardware (think of the way a nurse sets up an automatic intravenous push for a patient).

There are a number of features that make touchscreen technology so handy. It gives designers scope to make their applications user-friendlier, which, in the end, means it’s easier and faster for us to use them in our everyday lives. Another element that makes touchscreen haptics so good is the scope for designers and developers to create larger screens in smaller devices. Compare the size of your desktop to your smartphone or tablet and the number of things you can do on them – not to mention how easy it is to carry a tablet or smartphone compared to a desktop!

Touchscreen haptic technology has significant appeal across all levels of society. Although there has been some controversy over CommBank’s newest EFTPOS terminal and its usability for the visually impaired, touchscreen technology generally makes it easier for people with disabilities to use technologies that are otherwise impractical with a conventional set-up. Likewise, haptics makes computers more accessible for people with less confidence in operating technology, which consequently helps reduce isolation and foster inclusivity in our communities.

The use of haptics at Integra

Integra first dipped its toes into the waters of haptic technology back in 2013 for the Coles Group when working on some prototype kiosks. Integra’s role was to develop the enabling enclosures to maximise the usability of the touchscreen technology. During this development, Integra realised these devices played naturally towards the company’s own skills and strengths in industrial design and DFM (Design for Manufacturability), as well as providing the facility to create unique solutions for Integra customers.

Those early days were a steep learning curve for everyone involved, explains Steven Parker, Product Design Engineer at Integra, given the number of challenges that needed to be overcome.

“Some of the issues that we originally faced with designing the kiosk enclosure to support the haptics were the human ergonomics, and making this work with the screen,” says Steven. “There are lots of literature on this area; however, there are also lots of people saying how they would like it to differ in small ways – whether that’s higher or lower, different screen angles and so forth. We also had to overcome technical issues, including earthing the screen better, because we found that users were having issues with the touch sensation not working.”

Rising above these early obstacles allowed Integra to develop some industry-leading processes when it comes to designing information kiosks, a big part of which involves a thorough understanding of the customer’s needs. This developed into a range of kiosks under the Integra TransForm auspices, Touchscreen Collection.

“In simple, general terms, kiosk design starts off with market research and what the customers are after,” says Steven. “We then turn to concept generation, while paying close attention to the hardware that is going to be used, to ensure we have enough space within the unit. When the kiosk begins interacting with people, the ergonomics is also a big factor to take into consideration.”

Integra also places an intense focus on making the build design easy to replicate.

“Once we have competing concepts, we narrow these down to a single concept and start to detail this out for manufacture,” continues Steven. “While detailing the kiosk, we have to pay particular attention to DFM, and the ease of maintenance and ongoing service. Too often products are designed but the manufacturing processes and costs aren’t taken into consideration, or the ease of after sales service.”

Steven argues, while there hasn’t been a great deal of advancement in haptic technology per se, advances in how this technology has been applied is where the real changes have emerged.

“There are multiple different technologies with the touchscreens, which differ in how they pick up the finger touch,” he continues. “Each type of screen has pros and cons so it’s a matter of trying to choose the best one for the many different applications they can be used in.”

Likewise, Steven finds it hard to pinpoint exactly what the next big wave in touchscreen haptics is likely to be, especially considering the endless possibilities. Regardless, he’s sure haptics technology will continue to find its way into more everyday items and applications such as the Internet of Things.

“We’re even using the touchscreen technology in the factory at Integra where we, perhaps, might not have really considered it to be useful,” he admits. “As a really simple example, we’ve tried to remove the paper trail from jobs with a semi-paperless system of touchscreen kiosks to receive job sheets and work instructions.”

And this is just the beginning.

Learn more about Integra’s TouchSmart Collection – www.integratransform.com.au

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Published in Blog
K2_WRITTEN_ON April 09 2018
Written by Erika Hughes