CanHaptic Lab 3: Communicate Something with Haply

Goal

The goal of this lab was to explore force-feedback designs on Haply and communicate an abstract message that has a high-level or effective meaning.

Brainstorming

I had an initial idea to explore how can I express the different states of mind. If you practice mindfulness, you might have felt the transitional feelings of relaxation, normalcy, and heavy-headedness during the course of time. My idea is to put it into a physical form.

I sometimes use coffee house metaphor to describe my state of mind — a really chill/relaxed state translates to an empty coffee shop; normal state means some usual traffic; heavy-headed state has gushing traffic in and out, almost a fullhouse. I initially thought of translating this metaphor into haptic signals. But quickly realized I might need visuals to make this concept more explainable.

I worked with Raquel for initial brainstorming and we drew several ideas on a whiteboard. We discussed my coffee shop idea, permeable or rigid walls, the texture of dip and bumps, blobs (see the first picture). We thought of playing with simple viscous box elements with damping. It’s simple to try and there is a lot to explore — width and length of the box, the distance between boxes, damping factor, and rigidity.

Design One

For expressing the state of mind, we needed something that can be understood just with haptics but simple enough to not confuse the users. So, I decided to use a simple viscous box and thought of varying the damping value.

Rather than sticking to particular words, I decided to stick to three themes, that define the transitional state of mind — (1) free, open, clear, relaxed expressed via minimal damping (2) normal, somewhat crowded, mostly okay expressed via medium damping, and (3) heavy, busy, stuck, dense via high damping.

//updating damp values using buttons
public void One(int theValue) {
damp = low;
}
public void Two(int theValue) {
damp = medium;
}
public void Three(int theValue) {
damp = high;
}
//triggering the damping only when inside the surface
if (s.h_avatar.isTouchingBody(a1)) {
s.h_avatar.setDamping(damp);
} else {
s.h_avatar.setDamping(10);
}

Raquel and I discussed how it is difficult for people to choose words when we asked them about their feelings in an open-ended way. They often use action words like “drawing a smiley” for stating that they are happy. So, I thought keeping the prompt open-ended will not be a good idea. I needed to narrow down to what adjectives I am trying to express. So, I added a question “How your head feels today?” and I asked users to imagine the blue box as their head and tell me how it feels to be inside it.

I tested this on two classmates and their answers were coherent with my themes.

I also tested it on my roommate who is not familiar with haptics at all. The answers were different. They were trying to express the superiority of one texture over another than the feeling itself — “One is better than two as it feels relaxing”, “Two is better than three”.

Design Two

Raquel and I also discussed the idea of expressing words — stuck, barrier, and out of control. We initially thought of implementing a bounding box around the cursor for expressing the feeling of being ‘stuck’, randomly forcing Haply in an unstable position to gave an idea of ‘out of control’, and adding a ‘barrier’ that you can cross when you try harder.

While implementing, we skipped the ‘out of control’ idea as we need to attain a stable ‘unstable’ position through Haply. Definitely doable, but might take some time. We instead started playing with the bounding box concept.

While playing with bounding boxes and varying the avatar damping values, we realized that around damping value 988 when you touch a bounding box, it feels like as if you are touching a glue stick or a tape. So, we thought of using word ‘sticky’. So, for the second part, my three words were: stuck, barrier, and sticky.

I created three boxes to make an enclosure. The boxes’ properties were changed using the buttons:

public void One(int theValue) {
damp = 0;
resetWallSensor(false);
}
public void Two(int theValue) {
damp = perturb;
resetWallSensor(true);
}
public void Three(int theValue) {
damp = sticky;
resetWallSensor(true);
}
void resetWallSensor(boolean value){
b1.setSensor(value);
b2.setSensor(value);
b3.setSensor(value);
}

Here is a GUI of this design.

We hid the bounding box to give a sense of illusion and not explicitly guide the user towards the words visually.

Boolean novisual = true;

Some themes emerged while testing with users. The last one was hard to guess as the sticky part is only felt doing a certain gesture — when you push the surface and pull back. If you just try to cross the surface, you feel a strong force, something that was expressed by the users.

Again, my roommate has a totally different viewpoint, they pushed the Haply really hard in all three options allowing it to leave the bounding box, and then explored the GUI bounding box rather than the initial bounding box. They felt the GUI bounding box was different for each option, for two it was like a square and for three it was like a heart. They never experienced or paid attention to the effects on the small bounding box around the avatar, which was the focus of my design.

Reflection

When expressing words via haptics, you need to make them expressive yet focussed. For example, for the coffeeshop metaphor, Raquel designed an area with boxes haptically annotating a real coffee shop. When a user tested the texture, their views were somewhat based on the stationary boxes, not on the avatar damping which we mapped to express three states of mind. In my second design, my roommate ended up exploring the surrounding walls rather than the bounding box element with information.

The concept of guiding the user and narrowing the focus worked for design one. Although the implementation was simple it conveyed three themes very coherently.

The feel of texture changes based on how you interact with it. Different speeds of motion, different directions of motion, and different grip on the end effector might change the perception of force on the user’s side. That is something hapticians should take into account.

We are visual thinkers, whenever Raquel and I were thinking of texture ideas it involved some sort of visualization. We struggled to figure out ideas that are expressive without the use of visuals.

Thinking of different expressive ‘emotion’ words to convey ‘how you are feeling’ is difficult. We often tend to explain how we feel through examples or metaphors or visuals. People struggle to quote/pick a single word to express a feeling. It is like sampling the ocean through a sandbucket (You see what I did there, I expressed how hard it is to express using a metaphor).

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