This company is using haptics to give electric cars the feel they lack

How do you make two cars feel different? With an engine there are nearly unlimited permutations of cylinder numbers and layouts as well as their bore, stroke and firing orders, plus turbo- and supercharging. But their resemblance to seating in a typical skateboard chassis, as with electric motors, leaves little room for maneuver.

The power output of the motors can of course be adjusted, and the Porsche Taycan employs a two-speed gearbox to differentiate itself from the single-geared majority. But, overall and in these early days of mainstream electrification, at least for now, EVs mostly feel the same way.

For fear of being unable to stand out, carmakers are looking to differentiate anyway, and many big-name OEMs are turning to Icon Deny, a German firm that specializes in driver user experience. After years of working on the look and feel of the infotainment system, along with others with BMW, the Icon denizens are now turning their hand to making cars feel like them.

We’re not talking leather, metal, and many recycled fabrics. It’s all about haptic technology, where actuators in the seat, steering wheel and every other touch point of the car’s interior provide a physical, tactile sensation to the driver and their passengers. By partnering with a haptic actuator firm called Woojer, Icon Incar wants to make electric cars feel the way their manufacturers want them to.

“With Woozer we have these actuators,” says Thomas Felger, chief executive of Icon Incarce. “They’re on the seat and become your response to how fast you’re going. The bass of the exhaust, for example, can be built up and moved through the seat with the actuators. You sit there and that’s a lot. It’s amazing. It’s a great feeling.”

Felger is confident that his company can make electric cars feel exactly what manufacturers want, and importantly sensationalize without coming across as gimmicks. At its peak, he says the technology can make a regular electric car feel like a Formula One racer.

“I can tell you for sure that the experience of driving a car with this kind of technology will really make you feel like you are driving a Formula One car. Because all the senses give you a response to go faster, and it makes you feel like you are driving a Formula One car. Gives the feeling that it’s cool… the seat makes you laugh through the thunder [of the haptic actuators]. So you sit in the seat and you think you have, for example, a V12 behind you that is alive and working. It really gives you these kinds of goosebumps. “

Felger says: “I think we’re already making a good step forward … I think it’s fun. We already have an OEM that’s committed to working with us on this “

But, while driving enthusiasts worried about the lack of soul of the electric sports cars of the future could benefit from the kind of haptic magic Icon Incar wants to please other customers, too. Felger explains: “The new car community, they’re not looking for [a physical driving sensation]…if you talk to my 19 year old son and his friends, they will have a bigger battery and they will be able to play their pc games in the car and use the car as one. to console.”

Tesla understands this too, equipping its new Model S and X cars with gaming computers as powerful as the Xbox Series X or PlayStation 5 to entertain passengers, or while parked on a charger.

Felger explains how young consumers are not looking at how the car feels while driving, but what else they can do while traveling. Can they work, or communicate with anyone? Can they be entertained and allowed to drive a car for them? Light, sound and haptic technologies play a part in this future, says Felger. “The next consumers aren’t the ones who will buy a Porsche for the sentiment.”

Icon Denial has “done some crazy things” with haptic technology, says Felger. “You can take an electric car today and make it something like this one from Startrack if you want. You can do sound, lighting, and really make one [user experience] It’s like a spaceship.”

But it won’t happen overnight. Felger says: “Actuators will become a big part of every experience. Haptic buttons just aren’t working properly; we’re in the first days of using stuff like this… I believe There will be a lot of changes in the future and the silent thinking of OEMs will be broken as the consumer will give them a tough time.”

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