Skip to Content

Adding Temperature to Human-Computer Interaction

An experimental new game controller adds the sensation of hot and cold to users’ experience of a simulated environment

Touch interfaces and haptic feedback are already a part of how we interact with computers, in the form of iPads, rumbling video game controllers and even three-dimensional joysticks. As the range of interactions with digital environments expands, it’s logical to ask what’s next: Smell-o-vision has been on the horizon for something like 50 years, but there’s a dark horse stalking this race: thermoelectrics.

Based on the Peltier effect, these solid-state devices are easy to incorporate into objects of reasonable size, i.e. video game controllers.

In this configuration, just announced at the 2010 SIGGRAPH conference, a pair of thermoelectric surfaces on either side of a controller rapidly heat up or cool down in order to simulate appropriate conditions in a virtual environment.

The temperature difference isn’t large - less than 10 degrees heating or cooling after five seconds, but the researchers involved discovered that, as with haptics, just a little sensory nudge can be enough to convince involved participants in a virtual environment that they are experiencing something like the real thing.

This graph shows that users responded to the change in temperature in a second (for cooling) or after about two and a half seconds (for heating), a difference they attribute to the inherent difference in sensitivity to hot or cold of the human palm.

The research was conducted by researchers at Tokyo Metropolitan University, with collaboration from the National Institute of Special Needs Education. Not coincidentally, among their aims for the device, they list temperature-transmitting interfaces for the blind.

Follow Christopher Mims on Twitter, or contact him via email.

Keep Reading

Most Popular

It’s time to retire the term “user”

The proliferation of AI means we need a new word.

The problem with plug-in hybrids? Their drivers.

Plug-in hybrids are often sold as a transition to EVs, but new data from Europe shows we’re still underestimating the emissions they produce.

Sam Altman says helpful agents are poised to become AI’s killer function

Open AI’s CEO says we won’t need new hardware or lots more training data to get there.

A brief, weird history of brainwashing

L. Ron Hubbard, Operation Midnight Climax, and stochastic terrorism—the race for mind control changed America forever.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at customer-service@technologyreview.com with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.