The Vibropixels

Wearable tactile actuators for creating whole-body touch sensations

The Vibropixels’ compact design make them easy to integrate into projects which require wearable tactile and visual stimuli.
The Vibropixels’ compact design make them easy to integrate into projects which require wearable tactile and visual stimuli.

The Vibropixels are a response to the challenges of utilizing whole-body tactile sensations in multimedia artworks. Artists and researchers are increasingly interested in the use of tactile stimuli to enhance multimodal experiences, especially when creating virtual or augmented reality applications, immersive art installations, or tangible computing experiences. However, the creation of high-quality, nuanced tactile stimuli presents a considerable challenge. This is particularly true in some of the most promising applications, which require wearable, distributed, and large-scale systems.
We designed this modular, easy-to-use system in order to enable a flexible approach to designing tactile displays, whether the goal is to create a small, localized experience or an experience which includes hundreds of simultaneous participants. Each Vibropixel is a self-contained device incorporating two vibrotactile actuators, integrated interactive lighting, and motion sensing. A flexible wireless system makes it easy to work with large numbers of Vibropixels, whether they need to be controlled individually or en masse.

A Vibropixel with its cover removed.
The rechargeable batteries are easily removed and replaced, allowing for continuous use at art festivals and other large scale public events.

Creating a shared sense of touch

We are particularly interested in the role of touch in social scenarios. How can we share what is an intrinsically personal sensory experience? One approach is to use the on-board motion sensors to make correlations between touch sensations and the visual perception of gesture — allowing us to feel the results of others’ actions. Another approach is using lighting patterns to create an awareness of distributed tactile sensations. This can help to create an awareness of shared tactile sensations, or to highlight the spatial or temporal distribution of stimuli.

The Vibropixel's Silicone Cover.
A cast silicone cover provides a soft feel to the device, ensuring a comfortable fit for wearable applications.
A group of Vibropixels during manufacturing.
The design allows for easy manufacturing. 140 Vibropixels were used in their first public exhibition in Shanghai.

Designed for professional artistic applications

We specifically created the Vibropixels to be able to meet the needs of professional artists. Their firmware is hackable using Arduino, they are easy to control from programs like Max/MSP or Open Frameworks, and they are rugged enough for use in long-term exhibitions.

Haptic Fields

Chris Salter and Tez in collaboration with Ian Hattwick

Chronus Art Center, Shanghai, China

Visitors wearing a garment with Vibropixels attached view themselves in a mirror.
The design of the garment contextualizes the visitors’ experiences as exploration, helped by a large mirror which allows visitors to view themselves as they prepare to enter the installation space.

The first major work created with the Vibropixels is an immersive art installation in which visitors are exposed to fields of light, sound and touch. Visitors to the installation first put on specially designed garments which contain straps for attaching seven Vibropixels to the arms, legs, and torso as well as a special frosted hood which deemphasizes visual perception. After dressing, visitors enter a space in which various patterns of sensation travel around the room, between the visitor’s bodies, and across sensory modalities.

A view of the installation Haptic Fields.
Intended to be installed in a large room, up to 20 visitors can explore the installation at one time. While visual perception is intentionally limited, an awareness of a shared social experience is highlighted as patterns of light and touch travel between the visitor’s bodies.

Credits

Ian Hattwick and Ivan Franco: Hardware and Software design
Marcelo M. Wanderley: Technical Supervision
Chris Salter: Artistic Supervision
Patrick Ignoto, Julian Neri, Alex Nieva, and Louis Fournier: Technical assistance
Silicone cases manufactured by Robocut Studios, Montreal
Garments designed and manufactured by JNBY Finery Co. Ltd., Hangzhou

Acknowledgements

Funding provided by the Fonds de recherche du Québec – Société et culture and the Chronus Art Center.

Performances

Ian Hattwick and Chris Salter. “Playing with Touch: Haptics for Art and Design”, a public workshop held July 10, 2016 at Chronus Art Center, Shanghai, China.

Chris Salter + TeZ in collaboration with Ian Hattwick. “Haptic Fields”. Artwork installed at Chronus Art Center, Shanghai, China from July 9 – September 4, 2016.