Whilst Novasentis will provide the core technology and haptic actuator film, KEMET will develop the manufacturing process for the final assembly and commercialization.
“EMPs are a unique type of electro-active polymer (EAP) that provide piezoelectric effects without the need for high operating voltages. In an unpowered state, the molecular structure of the EMP film is randomly aligned. When powered, the molecules align in one direction and expand, creating a piezoelectric effect” explains Novasentis online. The EMP actuators are created by bonding this material to a rigid substrate, the single-direction expansion of the material causing the substrate to vibrate. The flexible film, customizable in size and shape, can be just under 120μm thin. It can be designed to deliver distributed and localized haptics, from simple vibrations to tens of kilohertz in the acoustic range.
“These Electro Mechanical Actuators (EMP) sit in that sweet spot between the traditional actuators like LRA and ERM that have a lot of force but very little elongation and the class of actuators called artificial muscle which has a lot of elongation but very little strength. Our actuators offer decent elongation and adequate force to make them very desirable for many consumer electronics applications”, told us Sri Peruvemba, Novasentis’ Vice President.
“The frequency range is 1Hz to a few kilo hertz which as you will agree is a very wide range, this is great feature to have for the designer, they are no longer stuck with this one annoying buzz that you get from the traditional actuators, you can get as many as a few dozen uniquely different haptic sensations ranging from a mild tap to urgent wake up calls.
One of the best renditions of the conventional actuator is the one found in the Apple watch – the taptic engine- and its range is limited, it occupies a huge amount of real estate within the watch (maybe 30%), weighs a lot, probably dictates the thickness of the watch. Our actuator in comparison is about the thickness of a sheet of paper, weighs next to nothing and will literally disappear into the wrist band of a smartwatch”.
“We expect to enable OEMs and designers in creating a ‘haptic language’, such that one does not have to glance at one’s watch to understand what the haptic sensation was trying to communicate. It is conceivable that future wearable devices would have 10 to 20 unique haptic ‘feelings’ that we will learn and each will convey something unique and the smart wearables will not have to turn on the display for secondary confirmation about what the haptic signal meant” continued Peruvemba when interviewed about the devices’ capabilities.
“The actual force/displacement is heavily dependent on the substrate it is embedded into, obviously we would do poorly if the strap was made of steel. We are currently working with two of the world’s largest companies that make bands for smart devices to evaluate compatibility, our prototypes made of silicone and other flexible materials used in wrist bands, show a lot of promise. When we finalize these materials and design, we might be able to provide a more concrete spec”.
So will these film actuators be stacked for increased actuation force, leveraging KEMET’s capacitor film stacking manufacturing know-how to yield different actuator characteristics?
“KEMET will manufacture the final actuator product which comprises of a few tens of layers of ultra-thin electro active polymer film. Novasentis will supply the polymer film to KEMET and using KEMET’s manufacturing and process expertise in making capacitors, their factory will make the film actuators. KEMET’s output will be the final assembly of the actuator”.
“Our initial plan is to offer a set of standard parts with a few tens of layers based on the feedback received from customers in the wearables space but yes, the actuation force can be increased by adding additional layers. KEMET is already making parts that have 10x more layers than what we are contemplating so we believe this path is feasible in the future as we tackle applications beyond wearable devices”.
Will you produce discrete surface mount haptic actuators to be placed under discrete keyboard layouts or will these include multiple actuators embedded onto larger sheets to be mounted or moulded under keyboard pads, displays or even conformed to device enclosures? We asked.
“Our initial target is the Wearables space and the intent is to produce discrete actuators that will fit within the wrist band of a smart watch. We had previously built actuators in sheets for keyboards and other applications and plan to focus on those after initial success with the wearables market segment where we currently have the greatest market pull.
We are in serious design activity with several OEMs that are looking to embed the actuators into wrist bands, AR/VR sets etc. There are innumerable applications for this technology which is not available from anyone else but we are focused on delivering to the wearables market before we address the next lucrative application including medical, auto, keyboards, etc” Peruvemba said.
In fact, the two companies have already been working together for several months and aim to deliver their first production prototypes this summer, with plans for production starting early 2017.
“Our expertise in film-based capacitor manufacturing is a perfect match for the needs of the Novasentis haptic technology. We will be able to use our existing manufacturing lines to develop mass production quantities of actuators,” wrote Dr. Philip Lessner, Senior Vice President and CTO at KEMET in a company statement.
Indeed, KEMET would have the means to commoditize SMT haptics and make the technology truly pervasive.
Visit KEMET at www.kemet.com
Visit Novasentis at www.novasentis.com