Touchy-Feely Speakers Hint at the Future of Haptic Interfaces

By Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan on at

Touchscreens are flat and hard by necessity, thanks to their dense layers of glass, conductive metal, and capacitors. But as haptic interfaces start to appear in commercial gadgets, touchscreen devices are poised to become even more… touchy. Enter Eunhee Jo, a British Korean designer who’s spending the next year as a designer in residence at London’s Design Museum, and who specializes in haptic interfaces.
You might remember Jo from a project she unveiled last year, called the Tangible Textural Interface, which embedded touchscreen functionality directly on the soft fabric of a speaker system. This year, as part of a residency program at the Design Museum, she’s refining that concept into a workable product. Unveiled on the museum’s website this week, Surface Matters is a new prototype that looks like a set of two circular, desktop speakers. In fact, only one is a speaker, the other is a tactile control system that lets the user modulate volume, track, and audio style by pressing into a soft fabric surface, behind which, a motion sensor captures the gestures performed on the surface.

Thanks to funding from the Danish textile company Kvadrat, Jo is also developing another haptic project in parallel, this one for lighting. In this case, the gadget is a wallpaper like textile embedded with thin oval plastic chips, each wired with a touch sensitive LED mechanism. When you run your hand over the fabric, it lights up:

Touchy-Feely Speakers Hint at the Future of Haptic Interfaces

According to Jo, who was interviewed by the Design Museum as part of the residency, the whole point of Surface Matters is to push how we conventionally relate to electronics into new territory. "Having fabric brings in this emotional value between the user and the product," she explains. "Because when you actually control different functions with fabric it gives you this very tactile and soft feedback, which is different from using glass or metal or conventional materials."

For now, these are just prototypes. But haptic interfaces are getting closer and closer to the main stream. Apple had patented several designs for a multi layered screen that will give users tactile feedback, for example, while other tangible interfaces are popping up in the real world in the most unlikely of places. [DesignBoom]

Touchy-Feely Speakers Hint at the Future of Haptic Interfaces

Touchy-Feely Speakers Hint at the Future of Haptic Interfaces