Existing Vibration Technologies

When product designers develop products that contain vibration, they find that there are no complete solutions available and that they must cobble together a variety of components from a limited number of technologies to create a solution.  The results typically do not meet performance or size goals and require the designer to make painful compromises about the size or performance of their product.

Actuator Technologies

Most people are surprised to learn that there are only a few available technologies to generate vibration response including:

ERM - Eccentric Rotary Mass Actuators

ERM motors are rotary motors with attached eccentric mass at a fixed amplitude. As current is supplied to the motor, it spins up and vibration is created as the eccentric mass rotates.

Vibrations are transmitted through the motor, and into the device, which causes the motor to wear out rapidly. Because of the dampening involved with the relatively large mass of the device, these motors tend to have limited frequency response.

These motors have highly variable performance between units, over the life of a battery, and over the life of a device and they tend to wear out quickly.

LRA - Linear Resonant Actuators

Linear Resonating Actuators are small actuators which are run at a single very high frequency with little power and a single-axis of operation. They require an expensive third-party driver chip to remain in resonance. These actuators have high costs and limited performance.

Piezoelectric Actuators

Piezoelectric actuators convert electrical energy to mechanical energy and have great performance properties, but they require high voltage for actuation, effectively limiting their use in battery-powered devices.

Apple® Taptic® Motor

In an effort to provide haptic functionality in Apple’s recent generation of laptops and watches, they developed the Apple Taptic vibration motor. This motor provides high lateral impact to provide haptic feedback. Production issues for the Apple Taptic motor was the cause of a six-week delay in the launch of the Apple Watch.

Alps® Haptic Reactor®

The Alps Haptic Reactor is a very large actuator that is designed to provide low frequency response for VR, AR and Gaming controllers.  Alps claims that it provides two frequencies of response, 160Hz and 320Hz, but the higher 320Hz response is almost beyond human’s ability of perception; making it effectively a single speed actuator.

Motor Driver Technologies

Vibration motors and actuators are only part of a solution. To drive a vibration motor, a drive circuit must be created. Brushed motors may use simple circuits that turn DC current on and off, but brushless motors like LRAs require an expensive feedback-based motor driver.

TI’s DRV Motor Drivers

Most existing LRA drivers use reverse-EMF signals to determine the actuator’s resonant frequency so that the driver can send a signal at that speed. Unfortunately, the reverse-EMF signal is noisy and weak, requiring expensive filtering and algorithms that are error prone. These systems poorly track resonance in small devices with large resonant frequency swings, resulting in poor actuator performance.

Haptic APIs

Existing haptic actuators and drivers have very limited performance, so existing haptic APIs are very simple; usually a single API that has a parameter to turn a motor on for a specific time. Software developers have difficulty using these APIs to develop vibration responses that are useful for more than notifying the device’s user that there is an issue; they cannot be used to convey information to the user.

Problems with Existing Vibration Technologies

Existing vibration technologies are the cause of many performance, cost and consumer satisfaction issues with products that contain vibration.

Existing Technologies Performance Issues

  • Limited Vibration Power 
  • Limited Frequency Response
  • Slow Start/Stop Speed
  • Poor Efficiency
  • Poor Reliability
  • Poor Unit-to-Unit Consistency

Existing Technologies Cause Size and Cost Issues

  • Actuator Size (particularly in the z-axis)
  • PCB Footprint
  • Component Cost
  • Poor Efficiency = Larger Battery
Apple® and Taptic® Motor are trademarks of Apple Inc.
TI® and DRV® are trademarks of Texas Instruments Incorporated
Alps® and Reactor® are trademarks of Alps Electric Co. LTD.