Human Interface

Key Words that Drive Alps Electric-Ease of Use and Convenience

Universal Design is an idea (*1) proposed by Dr. Ronald L. Mace, who was the Head of the Center for Universal Design, North Carolina State University, the United States.

“Universal design is the design of products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design.”

Alps Electric’s corporate philosophy is “Creating new value that satisfies stakeholders and is friendly to the Earth.”
We aim to be “friendly to the Earth” by developing and creating environmentally conscious products and in order to “satisfy stakeholders” we focus on providing electronic components for consumer products like automobiles and mobile phones that fulfill stakeholders’ demands. Our concept of manufacturing products to satisfy stakeholders stemmed from Dr. Mace’s idea of universal design.
Alps Electric’s components are embedded in items that we use everyday so we are consistently at work developing products that meet people’s needs.

In the articles below we will introduce Alps Electric’s passion to facilitate product usability and better customer satisfaction through its electronics components.

(*1) Not Just for Individuals with Disabilities, but for Everyone

The late Ronald Mace was an American industrial designer, but he was also well known as an architect. He used a wheelchair, and proposed the idea of designing products and environments that would be usable by all people, and this concept was named “universal design.” He established the Center for Universal Design of North Carolina State University and announced the Seven Principles of Universal Design (equitable use, flexibility in use, simple and intuitive, perceptible information, tolerance for error, low physical effort, and size and space for easy approach and use), which later became the concepts for “universal design.”

Electronics Components: the Interface between Humans and Machinery

Alps Electric believes that electronics components serve not only as electric parts in digital devices, but also as interfaces between users and machines.
Humans and machines may seem incompatible at first thought; however, electronic components can facilitate the relationship between them by working as an interface improving the usability of machines. Everyday life could be more enjoyable with being able to utilize devices freely. In this light, we aim to “perfect the art of electronics” and produce electronics components that satisfy people and their needs.

Maximizing Our Perception

We leverage our five senses of eyesight, hearing, touch, smell and taste everyday and when using digital devices, which are now indispensable in our daily lives, we use some of these senses which can even sometimes surpass those of precision instruments (*2).
Mobile telephones are one example, where we can distinguish between the reception of calls and text messages from the sound or vibrations made. Then we operate the phone by looking at the letters, numbers or pictures on the keypad and pushing the desired key. We confirm our actions from the clicking sounds and the feeling in our fingertips.
However, recent digital devices include many functions in addition to their original features. Mobile phones for instance, can now also serve as audio players, TVs and Website browsers through an Internet connection in addition to their basic communications function. This development has resulted in a growing trend for mobile phones to have a touchscreen function in order to select items.

Representative touchscreen applications include automated teller machines (ATMs) and portable video game machines. When the touchscreen is tapped users are informed that their actions have been recognized by the device with a digital-sounding “blip”. However, sometimes sound functions may need to be disabled in some portable devices like mobile phones depending on the circumstances.
Therefore, we focused on creating a method other than using sound to inform users of their operations and thus developed technology that uses the sense of touch instead. This is how we created Forcereactor™, a device that informs the operator of his/her actions through vibrations rather than a “switch feeling” or sound (*3).

Forcereactor™

Forcereactor™

There were devices with functions similar to Forcereactor™ already in existence.
Such devices are used in the silent mode of mobile phones where they inform us of incoming calls and text messages with a vibration from an eccentric internal vibration motor. Alps Electric’s Forcereactor™, however, does not use eccentric vibration motors as we made every effort to create a device that allows superior touchpad control, low power consumption and compact size.
Eccentric vibration motors cause vibration by generating centrifugal force from a rotating motor with an eccentric load. Therefore, the system tends to create a long vibration period and thus is not suitable for creating a crisp key touch by stopping the vibrations immediately. Given this, Alps Electric applied its unique electromagnetic actuation technology instead of motors. This attempt succeeded in realizing a crisp key touch.
Mobile devices also require thinner and smaller electronic components with low power consumption. In this light, we applied a unique structure by means of flat springs to generate vibration in Forcereactor™. As a result, we succeeded in developing a device with a shorter vibration period and crisp key touch, while realizing low power consumption and smaller size.

Users of digital and mobile devices may not contemplate a lot about the vibration and key touch quality. However, we believe that the vibration function can offer users enhanced usability while improving the entertainment value on such devices.

(*2) Alps Electric’s Everlasting Passion for Manufacturing User-Friendly Products

With the aim of realizing comfortable lifestyles for everyone, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry has launched a Strategy to Develop Technologies for More Fulfilling Lifestyles. This long-term strategy focuses on “engineering lifestyles,” which measures living environments and human characteristics (physique, behavior, the five senses and awareness, etc.). The strategy set a goal to “develop devices, environments and systems that match people’s lifestyles and are enjoyed by the five senses.” Given this, it is now increasingly important to build better interfaces between humans and machinery.

(*3) Understanding from Touch

Tactile comes from the Latin word tactilis, meaning “touch.” In Northern Europe, there is a therapy called “tactile care” where uneasiness and pain can be eased by using the hands to lightly massage or cloak the patient’s hands, feet or entire body. Tactile care is also used in nursing care and other treatments in Japan and shows that stimuli to the fingers and hands may have a significant affect on our physical and psychological condition.

Pursuing More Natural Operating Methods

GlideSensor™

GlideSensor™

Nowadays we send text messages from our mobile phones daily. However, many people have perhaps experienced stiff shoulders and fatigue in their thumb due to the repetitive act of pressing buttons.
Given this, Alps Electric began its study of a new data input method where letters are written directly onto the screen with the finger and cursors for full-browser mobile devices can also be moved about by the hand as we do with personal computers.

Prototype mobile phone enabling handwriting on the screen, here showing the letter “S” written by thumb

Prototype mobile phone enabling
handwriting on the screen, here showing
the letter “S” written by thumb

Leveraging its capacitance sensing technology, Alps Electric has developed and produced a device for use in laptop computers’ touchpads (Product name: GlidePoint™). Another notable product is GlideSensor™, which was newly developed for mobile devices by means of our established capacitance sensing technology. Similar to the touchpad on laptop computers, GlidePoint™ enables users to write letters, draw pictures and perform tasks on mobile phones by tracing or touching the chassis surface.

Alps Electric makes every effort to facilitate usability. We are dedicated to placing the utmost priority on user-friendliness in our electronics components for digital devices.