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Car and Driver: We Try Bosch’s Haptic-Feedback Touch Screen, Are Touched By Its Effectiveness

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Bosch NeoSense

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Haptic-feedback touchscreens, essentially displays that affirm inputs with sensory feedback, have been around for years. Typically these systems tend toward the binary, buzzing, vibrating, or “clicking” in response to a digital button press on a flat touch screen. We’ve sampled Bosch’s haptic touchscreen, dubbed Neosense, at CES and can report that it offers more comprehensive, nuanced response and feedback than any haptic screen we’ve used yet. And for that reason it holds the potential to be nearly as simple to use as good old-fashioned hard buttons.
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Bosch NeoSense

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We often wax poetic about the virtues of hard buttons, which we acknowledge lack the sexiness of today’s high-definition touch-screen displays, but we do so for good reason. The buttons never rearrange depending on which menu you’re in, and thus are easy to find by touch alone, and they affirm inputs by physically moving or clicking. Bosch, as a supplier, is showcasing its haptic screen at the Consumer Electronics Show in “concept” form; final versions will be dictated by the OEMs that choose to adopt the technology. As such, Bosch’s Neosense demo resembles just that: a demo. There are no sexy graphics, just a few sample menus consisting of bland, square buttons and simple on-screen sliders.

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Perhaps the most telling example screen we tried consisted of several blocky buttons, each displayed with a different texture animated over it. Running our fingers over the different buttons triggered highly tuned vibrations behind the screen that, sure enough, mimicked the various textures we were seeing. For example, swiping perpendicularly across a button with vertical ridges felt like swiping across vertical ridges; swiping up or down along the ridges produced no effect.

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Neosense’s most impressive feat is how it minimizes accidental button presses while making it possible to feel for buttons and controls without activating them. A vast array of pressure-sensitive sensors behind the screen can discern between a hand feeling across the screen for different buttons and an intentional button press. Lightly grazing the screen, we could pick out different buttons from vibrations tripped as our finger met a button—and when it left a button. Finding a button and pressing firmly returned a sensation of a physical button click, even though the glass screen doesn’t move.

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Bosch NeoSense

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Using the sliders was equally satisfying. On regular touch screens (such as those in some modern Hondas, which relegate volume control to a feedback-free swiping motion across a screen) is frustrating and not terribly accurate. The digitized radio tuner on Bosch’s concept Neosense, represented as a horizontal band punctuated by vertical hash marks representing different stations, is different. Pressing the on-screen slider and dragging it in either direction, each hash mark was felt as an easily detected bump. Again, Bosch’s haptic trickery at work—the screen is flat and does not move. The feedback is little more than an elaborate (and successful) sensory stunt.

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The Neosense technology would seem to solve touch screens’ greatest problems, namely that for as slick as they appear, they typically take users’ eyes off the road. By letting drivers feel for buttons, Bosch’s setup could help keep drivers’ eyes where they belong without resorting to hard buttons—or wild gesticulating, as is the case with cool-but-tricky gesture controls. According to company representatives, numerous OEMs are interested in the technology, meaning we could see it soon, albeit adapted with brand-specific (and presumably prettier) graphics and menus. Bring it on.

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2016 Consumer Electronics Show

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