This website uses cookies primarily for visitor analytics. Certain pages will ask you to fill in contact details to receive additional information. On these pages you have the option of having the site log your details for future visits. Indicating you want the site to remember your details will place a cookie on your device. To view our full cookie policy, please click here. You can also view it at any time by going to our Contact Us page.

Little fold-up joystick brings haptics to portable devices

20 April 2018

The tactile joystick developed by startup Foldaway Haptics brings the sense of touch to mobile devices, drones and, in a smaller version, to virtual reality controls.

Image courtesy of EPFL/YouTube

This pocket-sized device, which can be unfolded in an instant, is about to hit the market. 

The tactile joystick developed by EPFL spin-off Foldaway Haptics is not much larger than a credit card and can be set up and put away in the blink of an eye. This low-power device plugs directly into a computer or mobile phone to add another dimension to the applications they run. The force feedback lets users feel the texture, stiffness and shape of virtual objects. This little robot joystick, which clearly punches above its weight, has already been presented at a number of specialised trade shows. 

Haptic-feedback systems, which are used mainly for gaming, hit the market a few years ago but had until recently disappointed users. They were just not very realistic in the way they simulated a collision by vibrating or imitated acceleration by increasing the feeling of resistance. “Systems offering more refined tactile force feedback have come out recently,” says Marco Salerno, the cofounder of Foldaway Haptics. “But they are bulky, hard to carry around and very expensive.” His company’s foldable joystick offers a very similar experience to that of the newer systems but is easy to stow in a laptop bag or even in your pocket.

With the help of a small magnet, this ultralight device opens up into a joystick with an upward flick of the wrist. It goes from flat – less than two millimeters thick – to three dimensions in a fraction of a second. It is stable and solid thanks to its origami-like folding mechanism and the composite materials used to make it. When closed, it is so flat that you may wonder where the sensors and motors are. It took several years of research in the Reconfigurable Robotics Laboratory for the researchers to overcome a number of technical challenges.

The little robot’s leading feature is the way it is manufactured, through a combination of thin layers of various materials already cut into the shape required for the folding mechanism to work. Because assembly is automated, it will be easy to mass-produce. “The fact that no manual action is required keeps manufacturing costs relatively low,” says Stefano Mintchev, the other cofounder of the startup, which received funding from NCCR Robotics to develop its technology.

Foldaway Touch, a haptic button for virtual reality joysticks

The layer-by-layer manufacturing process means that the system can be configured in different sizes and shapes. The company used the same model to develop a retractable device that can be placed on VR joysticks. It’s called Foldaway Touch and lets users handle a virtual object and feel its shape and texture with their thumb. The company won the Best Demonstration Award for the Foldaway Touch at the IEEE Haptics Symposium in March 2018.

Video courtesy of EPFL


Print this page | E-mail this page