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Bayer unit puts EAP muscle into touchy-feely iPod app

By: Roger Renstrom

January 31, 2012

LAS VEGAS (Jan. 31, 2:50 p.m. ET) — A subsidiary of Bayer MaterialScience LLC is exploring automotive and medical applications for its ViviTouch-brand actuator, now used in an external case for Apple Inc.’s fourth-generation iPod Touch device.

Demonstrations of the sound-and-vibration accessory drew positive attention during the Jan. 10-13 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. By itself, the iPod Touch does not support haptic, or sense of touch, feedback.

“We see electroactive polymers as a key material in developing components that translate electrical energy into movement in actuators and store energy in generators or sensors,” said Andrew Cheng, marketing director for the Bayer unit, Artificial Muscle Inc. of Sunnyvale, Calif. “Bayer is the first to commercialize EAP for the Mophie Pulse, a gaming device [controller] for the iPod Touch.” Mophie Inc. of Santa Ana, Calif., makes the Pulse.

Apple markets the case, with its textured gaming grip, for about $80. According to Apple, “it delivers pulse-pounding stereo sound and bone-shaking game feedback thanks to ViviTouch technology.” Originally, Artificial Muscle developed the actuator as a type of electrical motor for evaluating and monitoring muscle and tissue conditions.

A ViviTouch actuator consists of a thin layer of dielectric polymer film sandwiched between compliant electrodes, according to Artificial Muscle. When voltage is applied across the electrodes, the electrodes attract each other and the film contracts in thickness and expands in area.

The technology is particularly suited for small, battery-powered mobile applications such as Smartphones, gaming consoles, remote controls and gaming controllers, Cheng said. “These actuators are used to move an inertial mass, such as the battery inside the device, and according to a specific haptic control signal.”

Software developers can enhance their games and applications with ViviTouch’s small and lightweight characteristics and the “ability to achieve significant motion with less power, fast response times and nearly silent operation volume,” Cheng said.

“ViviTouch can reproduce any audio or vibration waveform and thus our ‘high-definition feel’ is perceived as more realistic to the consumer,” Cheng said, citing user studies.

Apple’s hard-shell Mophie Pulse has a soft-touch grip, integrated speakers and low-profile access to the controls.

 “Our patent portfolio covers the complete EAP base technology, including a broad range of disruptive approaches that can replace electrical motors and generators,” Cheng said. “While we are focused on the mobile gaming industry as an entry into the consumer electronics market, down the road we can certainly apply this to automotive and medical applications.”

Artificial Muscle unveiled the ViviTouch at CES 2011.

Bayer MaterialScience of Pittsburgh acquired Artificial Muscle in March 2010.

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