a man and his smartphone

Is the Future Now for Mobile Technology?

Devices are getting lighter, more flexible and more wearable.

a man and his smartphone

What's the next big thing in the tech world?

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Novasentis, Inc. (formerly Strategic Polymer Sciences, Inc.) is a leading developer of sensory feedback technology. In November 2013, the company won the CES Best of Innovations Award in the Embedded Technology Category for creating the world's first Electro-Mechanical Polymer, the thinnest and most flexible haptic actuator (sensory technology that responds to the skin for touch and controller feedback).

Novasentis President and CEO Christophe Ramstein is an expert in haptic and sensory technologies. Formerly the CTO of Immersion Corporation and founder of Haptic Technologies, he holds a PhD in Applied Mathematics from Polytechnic Institute in France.  He has also authored more than 40 patents and papers during the course of his more than 20-year career. I had the opportunity to interview Ramstein.

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Congratulations on your recent award at the annual consumer electronics show. Please tell me about haptic technology.

Haptic technology allows products to give tactile feedback when touched. The Novasentis revolutionary Electro-Mechanical Polymer technology provides consumer electronics makers with the most advanced haptic actuator and sensor technology, allowing devices to come alive with co-located vibrations, movement, morphing and sound. Novasentis actuators used in electronic devices act as a second skin, providing tactile and acoustic effects right under users’ fingers, allowing a richer and more natural sensory experience, enabling a variety of new activities and functionalities.

What are the more interesting applications of haptic technology?

The most interesting opportunities for haptic technology are for consumer devices that are getting thinner and flexible, including smartphones and tablets, wearable devices, keyboards and laptops. There are many other opportunities in health care, automotive, gaming and sports.

Please identify some of the trends you saw at CES.

I was impressed by the variety of wearable applications we saw at CES.  There were camera goggles, glasses with augmented reality, t-shirts that track your heartbeat, sleep and heart monitors, pet trackers, wrist phones, UV-ray detectors and watches that double as computers. These devices are leveraging more sensing features in a very small form factor never reached before. All these are companion devices of your smartphones and tablet, and have in common the fact they are in contact with your body, which is a great opportunity for more haptics.

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Were there any surprises for you at CES?  Which products really stood out?

CES was overwhelming with new products and innovations. It once again confirmed our forecasts that devices are getting thinner, lighter, more flexible, more wearable and more intuitive and lively. For example, devices such as the Samsung Galaxy Round, LG’s G Flex phones with curved OLED displays, the new Pebble watches or camera-enabled fashion glasses from Vergence labs really stood out. We received a tremendous amount of interest to adapt our technology for different products, especially in the wearables and mobile space, and we are looking forward to an exciting year ahead.

What are the biggest challenges for creating wearable electronics?

Because wearables are meant for the human body, they need to be able to work together harmoniously. They need to be light, comfortable and unobtrusive, while also being responsive and attractive.

Due to their size and location on the body, most of these devices won’t have displays or touchscreens.  This raises the fundamental question of how we will interact with them: Are they simply sensors or are they interactive devices?  Once again, haptics become a natural dimension to communicate simple information to end users.

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How important will mobile be in 2014?

The concept of a PC workstation with a display, mouse and keyboard is almost dead.  It has been replaced with powerful portable technology in the form of smartphones, tablets and thin notebooks with touchscreens and keyboards.  Mobility is essential to human beings, by nature.  We are meant to be on the move, and while we are moving, we want to interact with other people and with our environment. Portable devices are becoming an extension of our body, expanding our capabilities and enabling us to communicate and interact better with our environment and others.

What’s the next big thing in the tech world? (In addition to haptic.)

I think the connected car is the next big thing.  Audi introduced WiFi and Google maps integration, Tesla has a partnership with AT&T.  And soon, people will be able to to unlock cars, start up their engines, and monitor their vehibles remotely.

2014 should be the year where mainstream car manufacturers introduce smart connected cars and apps that handle a range of functions.