3 Piezo Haptic Applications That Will Drive the Industry 4.0 Revolution

Industry 4.0 - Smart Factory

We talked a lot about how haptics can improve consumer devices like smartphones, wearables, computers and automobiles. If you want to read more on this subject, we encourage you to look at our complete blog here. We have a lot of meaningful content on those subjects.

There are many other applications where haptic can have a meaningful impact. While it may not be as sexy as the fast-moving smartphone and wearable markets, the industrial market is next in-line to be disrupted by better tactile effects and haptic technologies. Have you heard of the "Internet of Things (IoT)" and "Industry 4.0"?

Let’s see how piezo haptics will shape future industrial technologies.

Internet of Things - Smart Home

What is the Internet of Things (IoT)?

You may have encountered the acronym IoT. Those three letters stand for the Internet of Things. According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the definition of the Internet of Things is:

The networking capability that allows information to be sent to and received from objects and devices (such as fixtures and kitchen appliances) using the Internet.

Simply put, IoT designate objects connected to the internet that can interact with each other. Those devices surround us and are already in our houses, interacting with us. An example:

Hey Google, close the lights. Hey Alexa, play some music.

Yes, we’re talking about the quick rise of smart speakers like the Google Home and Amazon Echo! While very simple, those sentences can trigger actions and require a lot of calculation in order to complete your simple request. The smart speaker in your house is connected to the company’s remote servers (Google or Amazon servers) to allow the artificial intelligence (AI) to compute your request. It then connects to the service’s servers to complete the request (for example Spotify’s music library or the Philips Hue Lighting service). Those interactions are possible thanks to the Internet of Things revolution we saw unroll the last couple years.

The internet of things isn’t limited to smart home devices like smart speakers and smart televisions. It also applies to small devices like smartphones and wearables and bigger devices like home appliances, automobiles, robots and industrial machinery. In fact, industrial will be one of the biggest markets for connect objects, hence the fourth industrial revolution.

How the Internet of Things Drives the Fourth Industry Revolution

Industry 4.0 is based on the increased connectivity between devices thanks to IoT. We looked on Wikipedia to find the definition of industry 4.0:

In essence, industry 4.0 is the trend towards automation and data exchange in manufacturing technologies and processes which include cyber-physical systems (CPS), the internet of things (IoT), industrial internet of things (IIOT), cloud computing, cognitive computing and artificial intelligence.

The concept includes:

  • Smart manufacturing
  • Smart factory
  • Lights out (manufacturing) also known as dark factories
  • Industrial internet of things also called internet of things for manufacturing

Industry 4.0 fosters what has been called a "smart factory". Within modular structured smart factories, cyber-physical systems monitor physical processes, create a virtual copy of the physical world and make decentralized decisions. Over the Internet of Things, cyber-physical systems communicate and cooperate with each other and with humans in real-time both internally and across organizational services offered and used by participants of the value chain.

If you’ve read that far, you may wonder where haptics will fit in this industrial revolution. After all, Internet of Things is based on connectivity and data sharing. How haptics can have a meaningful impact on cloud-based technology? Let’s see how haptics will fit in.

Haptics Will Play an Important Part in Industry 4.0

The fourth industrial revolution will bring many new applications to advanced technologies. Real-time communication and interaction between cyber-physical systems and humans means there will be a lot of interaction between workers and electronic devices.

For starters, most devices use a touchscreen as the main input interface. If there is something that we talked numerous times before, it’s the unfortunate disappearance of the touch sense with touchscreens. Where there is a touchscreen, there is a need for haptics. Look at our blog on haptics and eBooks to see how you can improve the user experience on touchscreens with high-definition haptics.

Another application in which haptics can help boost workers’ productivity is in more advanced technology like augmented and virtual reality. While it’s easy to believe AR and VR are technologies only destined to the gaming industry (like in the movie Ready Player One where they have VR suits with haptics), industry 4.0 will use those technologies to shape future smart factories. Haptics will help workers learn and work faster, accomplish more complex tasks and work in safer environments.

Let’s see how those technologies can have a meaningful impact in three real-world applications.

Employee Working on Tablet

1. Decreasing the Learning Curve Thanks to Natural Interaction with Haptics

One of the most useful applications for the industrial market for new technology is training. Many virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) technologies are being used in industrial applications to decrease the learning curves of employees and students.

Have you heard about Google Glass? If so, you might remember that futuristic prototype destined for the consumer market in which glasses would have integrated AR technology. The prototype never really saw the consumer market, but it lately got reboot for another application: industrial training. Take a look how Google Glass is now used here.

It’s easy to see how haptics could push this concept even further. You could add haptics in gloves, in clothes, on tablets, etc. to share information with the user. You could validate or refute different kind of actions with different types of vibration patterns.

Plus, a new study conducted by Fabian Hutmacher and Christof Kuhbandner, two researchers at the University of Regensburg, suggest that touch is highly effective to create detailed and lasting memories. Haptics can help factories be more efficient by decreasing the learning curve of their employees training.

Virtual surgery performed by doctor

2. Advanced and Immersive Simulation Plus Remote Control Thanks to Haptic Feedback

Better haptics can also be useful for simulation. Training with VR is a way to reduce training cost when you can avoid costly equipment. For example, advanced flight simulators help pilot students to learn without having to have a plane in the air. Surgery simulators can also help medicine students train without having putting patients in danger. Talking about surgery, let’s see another very interesting application for haptics in industry 4.0.

One of the most advanced applications of Industry 4.0 is remote control of machinery. Better haptics allows pushing this concept further and makes possible to remotely accomplish highly critical tasks that require precision.

Ever dreamed about having a medical surgery from a robot? What if the robot was remotely operated by a highly skilled doctor in another country? The doctor could use a control device and, thanks to HD haptic effects he would be able to feel all the tactile information he would feel by using the medical tools for real. Very useful when you need high levels of precision!

While this concept looks futuristic, it is happening as we speak. In fact, the first remote surgery was conducted in 2001 by a French surgeon in New York, USA on a patient 6 230 km away in Strasbourg, France! With better haptics, we could build better performing telesurgery robots and help share the surgical skills of the world’s best doctors in other countries without moving them.

The same concept could be used in various industries to solve many challenges. Reducing travelling cost, sharing a critical but rare skill, avoid life-threatening situation, etc. Better haptics means more information to the user to complete his task with more precision.

Workers working safely

3. Improving Work Safety with Haptics

New technologies will also help smart factories to improve safety on work environments. Let’s imagine a factory where employees use wearable devices or clothes with haptics capabilities. Industry 4.0 means that robots, tools and machinery surrounding employees in the factory are connected to the internet and can share data. This means you can trigger haptic alerts to warn employees of immediate or potential dangers, like a vehicle circulating nearby for example.

Haptics can also help to control precisely machinery remotely in dangerous environment. What if you could rescue someone in a life-threatening situation without putting the life of the operator at risk? Haptics feedback will bring more information to the user and improve his/her precision.

How Piezo Haptics Can Improve IoT and Drive Industry 4.0

As we can see, the industry 4.0 is driven by new technologies thanks to the Internet of Things. Haptics clearly adds value to various industrial applications by adding a layer of information for the user and improving the performance of the new tools that will be used in a near future. Better robots, better simulation hardware, improving safety and productivity in factories, etc.

To develop those higher performing machines, you need better haptics. We recently compared the three main haptic technologies available on the market in three articles. It’s a good read if you are wondering which technology you should use between Eccentric Rotating Mass (ERM), Linear Resonant Actuators (LRA) and Piezo Actuators:

  1. Boréas Technologies’ Piezo Driver IC vs. Eccentric Rotating Mass (ERM) - Haptic Technologies Showdown - part 1
  2. Boréas Technologies’ Piezo Driver IC vs. Linear Resonant Actuator (LRA) - Haptic Technologies Showdown - part 2
  3. Boréas Technologies’ Piezo Driver IC vs Competitors’ Piezo IC - Haptic Technologies Showdown - part 3

For this application you need better haptics for better effects. Low-key and crude vibrations are okay for a game controller, but they aren’t acceptable for virtual surgery when a life is on the line. Piezo haptics offers performance that other technologies can’t match and can create rich, detailed and nuanced feedback.

Plus, coupled with our CapDriveTM Technology it’s also the lowest power consuming haptic technology available on the market.


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