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SmartTouch puts some muscle into haptic technology

Artificial Muscle makes SmartTouch, a forced-feedback technology that can be put into laptop touch pads, displays, and handheld devices.

SAN JOSE, Calif.--Artificial Muscle believes that when you touch your computer or phone, it should touch back.

The Silicon Valley company is working on putting haptic feedback in a variety of devices, from laptops to touch-screen phones. Though forced feedback isn't a new concept, the way this company is going about it is different. It showed off some of its technologies at the Interactive Displays 2009 conference here.

Instead of using the vibration motor in a phone to give feedback from a screen, the company has developed and patented an electroactive polymer that expands when it receives an electronic signal. In this case, it's an audio signal, which the actuator, as it is called, receives. Special software tells the actuator to give off a different sort of feedback depending on what a person is touching on the screen.

The idea is that putting feedback like this into phones or computers for playing games, dialing numbers, typing e-mails, and browsing the Web will "enhance the usage experience, so it's not just visual and it's not just audio," said Peter Gise, product manager for Artificial Muscle.

The actuator is very thin (as seen in video below), and can fit into many small handheld devices, or beneath a touch pad on a laptop computer. Gise said they're also targeting Netbooks, since the actuator is "only a couple dollars" each and wouldn't contribute too much to the overall cost of the notoriously low-cost devices.

They've been officially developing haptic technology for six months, and so far they have yet to seal any deals to put it inside consumer devices. In the meantime, check out the brief demo in the video below.