Christopher Mims

A View from Christopher Mims

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

  • July 28, 2010

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.

The latest Insider Conversation is live! Listen to the story behind the story.

Subscribe today
Already a Premium subscriber? Log in.

Uh oh–you've read all of your free articles for this month.

Insider Premium
$179.95/yr US PRICE

More from Intelligent Machines

Artificial intelligence and robots are transforming how we work and live.

Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe to Insider Plus.
  • Insider Plus {! insider.prices.plus !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Everything included in Insider Basic, plus ad-free web experience, select discounts to partner offerings and MIT Technology Review events

    See details+

    What's Included

    Bimonthly home delivery and unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website.

    The Download. Our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation.

    Access to the Magazine archive. Over 24,000 articles going back to 1899 at your fingertips.

    Special Discounts to select partner offerings

    Discount to MIT Technology Review events

    Ad-free web experience

/
You've read all of your free articles this month. This is your last free article this month. You've read of free articles this month. or  for unlimited online access.