Just the other day I was thinking, “Whatever happened to Senseg? I should follow up.” Luckily they reached out before I could forget, announcing a $6 million (€4.35 million) investment round led by NXP Semiconductors N.V., and followed by existing investors Ambient Sound Investments and Finnvera Venture Capital. Even though I’ve been saying this for a while, with this funding, perhaps Senseg’s technology will become the next big thing for devices.
Senseg provides a “high-fidelity haptic solution for smartphones”, which in layman’s terms, means that Senseg makes that flat, tactile-less piece of glass on your smartphone actually feel like it has different textures on its surface. So if you’re playing a game, then textures like grass or concrete will feel different on your finger, or buttons could pulse at you to let you know you’ve pressed them long enough. This technology is also useful for navigation and in-vehicle controls, when you need to interact with something but keep your eyes on the road.
Instead of changing the screen mechanically, or making the phone or screen physically vibrate, Senseg uses electrostatic force between the phone’s screen and your finger to mimic the feeling of textures on the surface of the screen. With no moving parts and no changes in manufacturing complexity, the company thinks they’re onto something.
I would have to agree. A year ago I got the chance to test out a Senseg screen on a test tablet device at their offices in Espoo, Finland. At that time, the force of the textures weren’t amazingly strong – the haptics worked best if you more lightly touched the surface of the device instead of mashing the screen. But it was definitely a “oh this is going to be the future of phones” moment.
Back then the challenge was scaling down the hardware to fit the physical requirements of smartphones, which are already jam-packed with chips. Senseg is using this round to further commercialize their technology, which could suggest their are still hardware challenges. That being said the company is actively seeking a software lead and Android application developers (especially with mobile game development experience) signifying the company is leaning towards commercializing their technology with an Android OEM.
If I had to guess, with this investment their technology is first being applied first into the automotive sector thanks to the lack of chip size requirements and the fact that NXP has also previously invested in Catena and Cohda Wireless, companies focused on car-to-driver and car-to-car/infrastructure technologies. But I’d still say we wont see this technology on the market for years due to testing and the slow pace technology seems to move into vehicles. We’ll have to wait and see how “feelscreens” get commercialized.
“Senseg first showed the world the promise of next-generation haptics just a few years ago. Now we are set to deliver on this promise. We have focused our R&D on the smartphone market, which requires smaller chip architectures, and more time to properly develop.” says Paul Costigan, CEO of Senseg in a statement. “Senseg has also taken time to find the right investment partner with which to develop this solution and now we have this partner in NXP Semiconductors”