For the Greater Good: How Industry Leaders are Collaborating to Create Haptic Standards
Why do we need standards for haptics?
Demand for realistic, immersive and responsive tactile experiences continues to grow among consumers. When they’re playing video games, they want to sense approaching footsteps and feel the power of an accelerating car. When they’re driving real-world vehicles, they expect tactile feedback as they adjust a dial on the dashboard tablet — just as they receive when using their smartphones, computers and watches.
Unfortunately, a lack of industry standards is slowing the implementation of haptics by product manufacturers and the development of new haptic experiences by content authors. Without standards, it’s difficult for manufacturers and content authors to collaborate and deliver the engaging new experiences that consumers want. It’s also challenging to convey quality to consumers: If there are no standard definitions for terms like “HD” or “realistic,” what do they really mean?
Kickstarting standardization at Lofelt and beyond
At Lofelt, we recognized the vital need for industry standards and launched our first standardization project last year. The VT-1 specification, which we introduced at Smart Haptics 2019, is a proposal for objectively defining realistic vibrotactile feedback. In the proposal, we provide parameters and key requirements for delivering high-quality haptic output.
A few months after the Smart Haptics conference, our peers at Immersion announced that they too had been working on a variety of standardization projects. Two projects in particular caught our attention. First, the company had developed HD motor performance standards, which define what performance levels qualify motors as “HD.” Interestingly, the Immersion standards overlapped significantly with the VT-1 specification, even though they had been created completely independently.
Second, Immersion had also been working to expand the MPEG standard to include haptics. The MPEG-4 standard defined compression of audio and video. Incorporating haptics into an augmented MPEG standard could make it easier for content authors to deliver haptic experiences together with audio and video.
Since both Lofelt and Immersion were working toward similar goals, our companies saw a natural opportunity to work together on defining industry-wide standards.
Founding the Haptics Industry Forum
In March 2020, Lofelt, Immersion and other founding members such as Cirrus Logic, Dialog Semiconductor and TDK formed the Haptics Standards Group — subsequently renamed the Haptics Industry Forum (HIF). The forum’s goal is to define haptic standards that can address a range of issues, from enabling interoperability and simplifying licensing to ensuring the right levels of performance and defining high quality.
The forum has grown quickly in its first year, more than doubling in size in just the last few months. In addition to representatives from Immersion and Lofelt, we have added members from several prominent manufacturers of devices, semiconductors, driver ICs and actuators. We also have contributors that — like Lofelt — produce the SDKs and other software tools for designing haptic experiences.
It’s essential to have input from all of these participants. Lofelt, Immersion and the other member companies have real-world experiences with haptics and understand which standards should be our highest priorities. And we will likely be the first companies to implement the standards and any best practices that the HIF develops.
The HIF also has several academic members. These university-based participants contribute a theoretical perspective, helping us to understand the continuing evolution of haptics, sharing information about the latest haptics research and working with us to define the language and classifications we need for establishing standards.
In addition, we’ve been welcoming more and more people with backgrounds in accessibility. These experts help us envision ways that haptics can provide new, alternative modes for experiencing and interacting with the world.
We’ve structured much of our work around application examples (or use cases). So, for example, we discuss the use of haptics for automobiles, VR, gaming and even adult toys. We have subgroups that investigate how haptics can support these application examples and what potential challenges standards can address.
For the mobile use case, we’ve been discussing how haptics can provide not only notifications and confirmations of UI input but also immersive experiences. Many games are played with the audio disabled or off, so richer haptics on mobile devices could help deliver more engaging, immersive experiences. Creating mobile haptics standards and best practices could help device manufacturers and game developers make the most of vibrotactile feedback for these specific mobile applications.
Independent from the HIF, Lofelt and a small number of HIF members are also working with Immersion and other companies to establish a new MPEG standard that incorporates haptics. Creating a new global file standard for storing and sending haptics alongside audio and video content would go a long way toward moving the needle on haptics adoption.
Defining standards: A labor of love
Working to develop industry standards can be gratifying, and I’ve been drawn to similar projects before. About 20 years ago, while working for Siemens Mobile, I contributed to the development of the General Packet Radio Service (GPRS) — a mobile data transfer protocol that enhanced 2G cellular. The standard for that protocol was created through the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI).
The working environment for creating GPRS standards was an added incentive for participating. Back then, our group met in Sophia Antipolis, near Nice, France, in ETSI offices surrounded by olive trees.
Today, during this pandemic, working conditions are a bit different. The HIF meets every other week, by videoconference, late in the evenings in my Berlin time zone. More than once I’ve been on the call with one of my kids on my lap.
But despite the logistical challenges, I — and my fellow HIF members — do this because we believe in the tremendous value in devising standards for haptics. And we enjoy the collegial, collaborative process. We can temporarily take off our proprietary hats and work on something meaningful together.
The time for defining haptics standards is now. By bringing together representatives from the leading edge in the haptics industry plus haptics researchers and accessibility specialists, the HIF is in a great position to produce standards that benefit us all.
Interested in joining us? Visit the HIF website and request membership. We’d be eager to learn more about your haptics expertise and discuss how you can help us develop industry-wide standards.