Current Testing for The Sensel Morph

Hi all!

We’ve been super busy preparing for our large manufacturing round and testing the Morph in every way possible.

As part of the extension of the delivery schedule we built in more time to perform reliability testing. We have just completed our first suite of testing and are happy to report the results. Below are some of the tests we’ve  performed:

Drop Testing: This test is meant to simulate shipping and normal use. We don’t recommend you drop your device, but if it does take a fall you should be happy to know we performed this test! This test revealed an issue that we were able to fix for the final design.

Vibe Testing: We are shipping devices all over the world. Devices experience unique stresses during shipping. This test is meant to simulate the device being tossed around the back of a UPS truck and ground and air freight. We want to make sure the devices are delivered to you safely.

Environmental Testing: Ever leave your phone in a hot car? DJ in 100 degree weather? The suite of environmental testing is meant to make sure that the Morph can handle the wear and tear of everyday life.

FCC: This is still in progress. This makes sure The Morph can handle random radio interference and won’t interfere with your other electronics. The preliminary results are great and we will plan on shipping with FCC marks.

Battery Testing: This UN required test is necessary to be able to ship the battery and ensures we comply with international standards for battery safety.

A special thanks to Quanta Labs Silicon Valley, where most of the testing was performed.

So far, so good! Thank you so much for your patience while we make sure that The Sensel Morph is in tip-top shape to be shipped, we can’t wait to get it to you!

Robots to the Rescue!

[by Stephanie Chedíd]

An undeniable fact of creating thousands of hardware devices is that, inevitably, there will be minor variations in quality from one device to the next.  To make sure that each of the Morphs we send out are top notch, we custom-created a world class robot to help test out our devices.

This robot will be used to test the accuracy of our sensors and is able to detect the entire force range that our sensors are capable of detecting.  Here are some shots of the newest member of the Sensel team:


The photo below shows one of the linear slides, which will allow us to position the tip with an accuracy finer than the width of a human hair:


The robot has interchangeable tips to simulate different objects such as pens, pencils, and fingers. Below is a photo of the pen-like actuator tip:


Four our first test, we tried exerting precise forces on a postal-scale, and were able to apply forces as light as the weight of a penny to as much as the weight of a liter of milk with incredible precision:


In the coming weeks, we’ll be writing software to allow our robot to run all sorts of fun tests on our sensors. The goal: Top-notch sensors for all!

The Making of the Morph Case

[by Stephanie Lim]

Why did we make a case for the Sensel Morph?

The Morph is about the size of an iPad and, by itself, works great with an iPad sleeve. However, the Morph product is not only the pressure sensitive input device, it is also the flexible overlays that come with it. When you try to slide flexible overlays into a soft sleeve, they often bunch up, fold, and bend which wears away at the lifespan and durability of the overlay. In addition, checking to see whether the overlays are laying flat and fixing bunching overlays is an extra thing to worry about when you use a normal iPad sleeve to carry the Morph.

One other important feature of the Morph is its mobility. This is an input device that can be used for productivity, for gaming, for music, for art and we want you to be able to bring that versatility wherever your heart finds inspiration. We designed the case to hold, allow easy access to, and protect the Morph and overlays as you travel across the world from adventure to adventure. Without it, the Morph become a leave-at-home device “because there are too many pieces to bring,” or a cool device that just gets shoved into a “ready to squash and scratch up” backpack.

In designing a new case for the Morph and overlays, we are intentionally adding protection, functionality, and mobility to the morph experience.

The Design Process

“Hey Ilya, can I bring my home sewing machine to work and set up a sewing station to prototype? I also have some felt that I can start playing around with.” That’s where the Sensel Morph Case started.

Finding Inspiration

At the beginning my mission was to familiarize myself with all the laptop cases, ipad cases, and electronic cases that were out in the market. What kind of material were they made out of? Why? What do the pockets look like? What are their functions? How are they sewed? I didn’t have much experience with sewing, bags, or materials coming into this project, so I personally went through a lot of trial and error.

I made an inspiration board for myself that expressed a case that was simple, soft, clean, not too technical, not too high-end, and practical.


Defining the Goal (I like using “goal” rather than “problem”)

What should the Morph case hold?

1 –  Morph

4-5 – overlays

1 – Stylus/pen

1 – MicroUSB cable

other accessories


At the beginning, I spent some time observing how Ilya was using a normal iPad sleeve to transport the Morph and overlays. Here are some photos of the process:

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  1. the sleeve does not fit everything
  2. Ilya has to constantly check to see if overlays are flat in the sleeve
  3. accessories are jammed in whatever space is left
  4. Ilya has to take out everything to take out one thing

Findings- We should  design a case that:

  1. allows easy access and storage of the Morph (hard) and the overlays (floppy)
  2. accommodates Morph accessories from a microUSB to a pen or paintbrush.
  3. organizes and protects the Morph, overlays, and accessories for easy travel



Since I’m not an expert in sewing or soft textiles, I spent a lot of time learning to sew, learning about materials that worked and didn’t work well, and learning how to sew a bag with zipper and pockets in general. I got most of my prototyping materials at a local store called Joanne’s and sourced other materials that I couldn’t find locally. Below you’ll find a series of pictures showing sketches, felt prototypes, random fabric prototypes, prototypes using magnets, prototypes in pieces, and much more.

Although many people are taught that the design process is very linear, my design process went back and forth between sketching, revisiting the problem, testing functionality, getting feedback on form, sewing a lot of potential cases. I constantly had to check in with my current design, challenge it and decide whether to push it to the next level or evaluate another option.



Since I had little experience with the soft good/apparel industry, we were lucky to hire Josh at Knack as a contract manufacturer to work with me to design our case. Josh has created a product line of his own and has a lot of manufacturing and sewing experience that has really been valuable for us. He also helped me plan and figure out what problems we needed to tackle and how we might be able to do that, which was important in pushing forward with the design process.


It’s not too hard to imagine all the cool features that you want in a product, but choosing the most essential ones and making a scalable product is a whole other design problem. I’ve done a lot of projects in school where I start from idea and bring it to a functional prototype. This is the first time that I’ve had to face problems such as simplifying my design to make it manufacturable and scalable. Luckily, we found Josh at Knack and hired him as a contract manufacturer to work with me in designing our case.

I could talk about all the little steps during our design process, but instead, I’ll share just a couple ideas and problems that we were grappling with during our prototyping process, and how we tackled each one:

Magnets. At the beginning of prototyping, I was exploring using magnets in the case to hold the Morph and overlays in place in the case. I thought this fit with the “snap-on” overlays theme (the Morph and the Overlays have magnets embedded in them) and would reduce the number of straps and pockets. However, when thinking about the manufacturing process of embedding magnets in the case just for a 2000 unit case production, having that extra feature was not worth it. In addition, some users at meet-ups that tested our case did not notice the magnet  feature or thought that strong magnets might demagnetize and damage their other electronic devices.

IMG_0317 IMG_0430

Basic Structure. Most of the early prototypes opened up all the way so that one side could hold the Morph and the other side could hold the overlays. Initially, we thought that it would be great if a user could open up the case, lay it flat on a table, and be able to see the Morph, overlays, and accessories in an organized way. A key insight that we heard again and again was that users would probably not open up the case all the way on a day to day use case. Some envisioned easy access and storage to  the Morph, along with being able to store their unique accessories (pen, paintbrush, ipad) in the case also.  This made me rethink our original idea and create a case with one main pocket (like a sleeve) and an internal pocket instead of a pocket on each face of the case that opened up. I’ll call this the “single corner” case. It created one large universal pocket with an internal separating pocket for the Morph that could easily hold the flexible overlays without the overlays bunching up.

IMG_0621IMG_0837 IMG_0743 IMG_0861 (1)

One design criteria that we used to measure the usability of our case was being able to load and unload the case without a table. Think about the last time you used an iPad or computer sleeve. You probably held it open with one hand while on a hart flat surface, and used your other hand to slide your device in the case. We wanted this to be a practical case, so we wanted our design to be functional in an “extreme” situation. Loading the soft overlays were much more of a constraint than loading the Morph into the case.

Some problems with the “single corner” case were having too many pieces to sew together, having multiple plastic inserts, and having an unclear way to hold and use the case. What we didn’t fully understand at this point was that the case “should be” a hard case (plastic insert). Why? It’s difficult to store flexible overlays in a soft case. After realizing this, we realized that a binder/book like structure would be much more appropriate for the Morph. In addition, the hard shell would allow a user to hold the case in one hand and load the Morph and overlays on-the-go.


Here’s what the final prototype looks like (made in Oakland, CA).

IMG_9595 IMG_9589 IMG_9582 IMG_9580

What’s next?

With a couple more prototype iterations, we finally have a final prototype that we can send to China to get quotes. We will be comparing costs and trade-offs between manufacturing in the US and in China, and deciding which process will be best for our size of production!


Without Further Ado… The Overlay Design Finalists!

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Our Kickstarter backers have patiently been waiting to see which designs for the Overlay Contest they’ll be able to vote on.  Great news: The wait is over!  Even greater news:  Kickstarter backers will be able to vote today!

We received so many awesome overlay designs from backers all around the world.  The breadth of designs we received reaffirmed our belief that the Sensel technology powering the Morph can be used in so many different areas and applications.

One person submitted an overlay that would replace the control panels used in medical radiology units, another submitted a robot controller, and another submitted a new kind of spiral-like instrument that they’d created all on their own!

However, as with all contests (although we really wished it could be like when we were six years old, when every person on the soccer team got an MVP trophy), a winner has to be chosen.  The Sensel team chose the top five designs, but the final decision is up to you!  Whichever design receives the most votes from our Kickstarter backers will be added as an overlay option for all backers from Kickstarter and for those who are  pre-ordering.

In no particular order, here they are! (*Informative descriptions of each overlay will be included in the survey sent to Kickstarter backers for voting*)

DJ Board Mixer by Phung Phan Phuoc

Sensel Overlay - DJ Board Mixer Info 1.3 - 2.png

Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) Controller by Rafa Bono Aguilar

DAW Controller Overlay.png

The Striso (a new instrument) by Piers Titus van der Torren


Arcade Controller by Shaundel Celestin

Classic Arcade

Universal Media Editing Overlay by Cliff Edwards

Sensel Morph Media Editing Overlay.png

Thank you so much for those who submitted their overlay designs!  We can’t wait to have our backers vote on which overlay they’d like to have as an overlay option with their orders. We’ll be sending out information TODAY on how to vote, stay tuned!

How Sensel Decided to Get Its “Kick Start”

[by Stephanie Chedíd]

At Sensel, we created more than a new device, we created a best-in-class touch interaction technology. However, we knew we didn’t just want to build a technology company. Instead, from the very beginning, we wanted to focus on building great products that would be loved by our customers, and would allow them to interact with the virtual world in a more versatile and expressive way.

The idea for the Morph came from the realization that there are so many physical interfaces that are fixed and single-purpose (keyboards, mice, midi controllers, art digitizers). These interfaces don’t make much sense in the context of the rest of the computing ecosystem. Our laptops and tablets are upgradeable and customizable – nothing is ever fixed or single-purpose. Tactile interfaces are also far from being entirely replaced by touchscreens, as the modern computer/tablet is nearly always paired with a keyboard or some other physical interface. The Morph is the first product of its kind and it’s directly addressing this mismatch by finally bringing physical interfaces up to par with the rest of technology.

When we showed people the Morph, they all reacted quite differently.  Some reacted saying it could change digital art forever, others said it would be amazing for film editing, while musicians had their minds running about all the instruments and controllers they could customize.  Although we could have chosen one area to focus on (art, music, gaming, etc.), after seeing the varied (but equally enthusiastic) reactions from everyone, we felt it wouldn’t be fair to choose just one category for this technology.

There are reasons that we decided to focus on addressing the needs of “creatives”: artists, musicians, gamers, makers and developers.  For artists and musicians, they already understand the value of having a device that can detect new levels of nuance and expression. Artists see the value of being able to use their own tools (paintbrushes, pens, pencils) for the first time in the digital world. Musicians are excited to design new instruments/interfaces where they can take advantage of not only pressure but also position (like using a finger-rocking gesture to pitch-bend a note). We’re hoping that makers and developers use the Morph’s API to push the boundaries of what’s possible and lead the way in-terms of developing new interactions and use cases.

After deciding to make the Morph, well, “morphable”, we had to decide what channel to go through in making the device available to the public.  After contemplating our options, crowdfunding was the clear choice.  We chose Kickstarter because, in addition to helping us get our funding, we’d have an awesome community of supporters and what we like to call “conscious consumers” at our disposal.  A conscious consumer, in our minds, is someone who is not just blindly buying a product, but is willing to give feedback on what they think of it.  The opinions of our customers are especially crucial in this early stage of our company, as we want to implement as much feedback as possible into our product functionality and design.  As we had hoped, Kickstarter has already proven a great route.  We’ve gotten invaluable feedback from backers and non-backers alike.

We’ve been able to compile a list of art software that supporters have mentioned that they’d like to use with the Morph, and fully intend on making it compatible with every one on that list before the first batch of devices ship (see a video of the morph working with Photoshop here).  We’ve also gotten great feedback on different kinds of keyboards, and now understand that many out-of-country backers would like options outside of the QWERTY keyboard including keyboards for other languages and that there is also a lot of interest in ergonomic keyboards.  All of this feedback, and everything else we’ve been hearing, is invaluable to us.  If we wanted to go straight to selling this product in the store, we’d be missing out on the opinions of people who are very interested in what we’re doing, and sometimes just as passionate about it as we are, and that’s why Kickstarter was a clear choice for us.

We’ve also been able to use the Kickstarter platform to regularly update people interested in the Morph and to create video responses to the most common questions from backers. For example, we’ve created a short video series called “Will It Sense” where we show the Morph detecting objects that people have requested (see the first video here).  We’ve also been able to show our community a video of a Pianist using the Morph for the first time (see video here), and how the Morph is quick enough to sense the beat of drumsticks (video will be ready by tomorrow).  Being able to have a platform to share these video updates and get feedback on them from backers and non-backers alike has been of great value to us.

Given the chosen route of crowdfunding, we’ve also been able to create a great way for our supporters to take some matters into their own hands:  We held an Overlay Contest.  With this Overlay Contest, all were able to submit overlay designs and we will choose five for the backer community to vote on.  The Overlay that wins will be added as an 8th overlay option that backers can choose from to receive with their Morph (to learn more about the contest, please visit

On the down side, since many Kickstarters are put on by companies that may barely have prototypes, we do see some skepticism.  Rest assured, our device works as is promised in the video and, by the time we ship, it will work even better.  We’ll also be holding Meet-Ups in the Bay Area before the device ships. Our first Meet-Up, a joint effort with Make Media Labs, will be on October 6th in San Francisco. We’re also holding a party in the fall in San Francisco for all of our first-day backers, and they’ll all be able to test out the device themselves and see it in action!  Some things really aren’t too good to be true.  To see some of the great press we’ve gotten since launch, please visit

*The Kickstarter Campaign for the Morph ends on October 8th.  All who purchase from Kickstarter will be getting a discount.  A sincere thank you to all who have backed us thus far, and made it possible to reach our initial goal in less than 3 hours! We’ve also been able to make and reach a $250,00 stretch goal!  Given this, all backers who ordered Morphs will receive a stylish and protective sleeve to store their Morph and overlays in.

Visit our Kickstarter and spread the word before the campaign ends on Thursday — Thanks for all of your support!

Our First Episode of Will It Sense

During the duration of our Kickstarter campaign,  some people have approached us with concerns that the multi-touch and pressure sensitivity of the Morph might be too good to be true.  We figured there is no better way to show them that it’s the real deal than capturing video footage of it detecting some objects we had around the office and sharing it.  Our show-and-tell will continue in multiple episodes of Will It Sense.

Check out our first episode of Will It Sense below, featuring CEO and Co-Founder Ilya Rosenberg and Product Marketing Lead Stephanie Chedíd.

If there’s an object you’d like to see the Morph sense, please tweet the object along with #WillItSense at @senselinc and we might show the Morph detecting it in our next episode!  We hope you enjoyed our first episode of Will It Sense, and remember, not everything is too good to be true.

Control a robotic arm with force-sensitive hand gestures

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Awesome piece by Atmel on Ray Kampmeier using Sensel technology to control a robot arm

Atmel | Bits & Pieces

Maker manipulates a robotic arm with pressure-based hand gestures on the Sensel Morph. 

Ray Kampmeier recently finished a project that enabled him to manipulate a robotic arm using force-sensitive, five-finger hand gestures. To accomplish this, the self-proclaimed hobbyist employed a MeArm, an Arduino Uno (ATmega328), four servo motors, and a servo shield to control the mechanism.


Sensel’s soon-to-be-released touch interface — theMorph — is used to command the robotic arm in four different ways: force down, rotation, pinch and forward/backward. For example, placing five contact points down and twisting the wrist will rotate the base, applying pressure on four fingertips will raise and lower the arm, while moving along its XY axes will extend and retract it. What’s more, Kampmeier reveals that pinching all five fingertips together on the center of the touchpad will cause its attached claw to close.


“Without the force sensitivity, I don’t think it would have been as magical of an experience for me to control the…

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The Artist

The art that artists create has changed, inevitably, in the last hundred years, but even more drastic is the change in how they create their masterpieces.

Today, people often consider themselves either digital artists (using digital tablets) or traditional artists (using paint on a canvas) with few falling in between. The Sensel Morph is empowering artists to explore this “in between” and have the natural, tangible experience of working with their brushes, pencils, and fingers while still simultaneously capturing all of their art digitally.

With the Sensel Morph, you can use an actual paintbrush on the surface of the device, and watch the computer pick up the movements and shape of the brush. You can use your fingers and go back to the finger-painting days of your childhood. You can place a piece of paper over the device and sketch directly on to it while sketching in an art program at the same time—The Morph is so sensitive that it picks up all of these.

We want artists to have their cake and eat it to.

In order to make sure our device could satisfy the talented artists out there today, we had one of the best illustrators we know test it out.  Josh Ellingson, a digital artist whose work been featured worldwide, got a chance to create some art with The Morph. Here’s what he had to say:

Q: What’s your background, what’s your passion?

J: I’m an artist so I’m really passionate about artwork. I like all kinds of new art, classic illustrators, animation, I like a lot of old cartoons and that kind of stuff. I love technology and science as well.

Q: Where did you find yourself making illustrations at first?

J: I was always drawing during class, I was kinda the guy who got lost drawing in the margins. I always made time to work on my comic book sketches after school. Pretty much whenever I had free time, it wasn’t so much of a “business” back then. I went to school for graphic design but when I came to SF the art directors looking at my portfolio saw that I had all these drawings and recommended I do illustrations and once I saw that it was possible to make a living that way I just didn’t wanna stop.

Q: When you were first starting as a professional artist how were you making your art?

J: I was more of a traditional pen and paper kinda guy. I had tried tablets but found them kind of annoying at first but when I got a job in animation everyone was using different tablets and input devices. I wasn’t comfortable with them at first but then I finally transitioned over to art tablets to be able to color in my work. Now I mainly complete most of my art work on the computer, but tend to still sketch on paper and then scan.

Q:   What did you enjoy about using traditional pencils and pens to sketch and what did you feel like you lost when you made that transition towards art tablets?

J: The best ideas tend to come about from the interaction between the tool and paper. There’s something that happens with pen and pencil on paper that just doesn’t seem to happen in most other cases. So even now I still start with pencil on paper and then I scan it and color it in with tablets. I moved to using vector-based art programs and re-creating the pen lines on the computer but even now it’s still a struggle with the tools, to make them feel like traditional media and feel the same connection to digital art.

Q: How has it been using The Morph? How long have you been using it, how did you find it initially, what was your out-of-the box experience like?

J: When I saw the demo and realized how many different levels of pressure-sensitivity it has I knew it this would be huge before I even touched it. The fact that it already supports multi-touch and what that means in the future for drawing software, that was huge too. I was really excited about it. When I got it I was blown away by how delicately it picked up the brushes. I could use my finger and barely touch the surface and see a light line. This is out of the box, with software that hasn’t even been used with it before. I have had it for about two weeks and the experience with it keeps getting better and better.

Q: What’s it like to use a regular paint brush on an art tablet?

J: Using The Morph with a brush is wild. The painting software I use has a similar brush to one that I was using and it almost matches it identically; the feeling of using a brush and seeing it behave on the screen as it would on paper was really interesting, it’s kind of unheard of. Working with a brush on the device is incredible.

Q: What has your work flow been like with The Morph?

J: I’ve just been experimenting a lot. I’ve tried everything from a ballpoint pen to a chalky pencil, and using those by putting a piece of paper on top of it—it’s so sensitive that it picks up through the paper with no problem. You can use a colored pencil, hard pencil, ballpoint pen, it just picks all of them up. And you still get that feeling of physical media and it’s so cool. I’ve even tried a fat brush with long even strokes and that works really beautifully too. I’m excited to try other things. Sometimes it’s just so natural to grab the smudge tool and literally just move paint and color around with my finger. I’ve never been able to do that with anything before. Painting with your finger is wild too because it’s like paint is just coming out of your finger-tip.

Q: What does it feel like when you’re working with The Morph?

J: So far I’m really staying in the zone, it’s wild. It hasn’t taken me out of the drawing in the way that some digital tools do. I’m not thinking about layers, I’m not thinking much about the tool palette, and it’s sensitive enough to adapt any tool I’m using like multiple tools might. I’m able to change it just by tweaking the pressure and size. I was in the zone, I was just thinking about the drawing. The beautiful part about it is that moving paint around doesn’t feel that different from moving paint around with a brush on canvas. I haven’t had any trouble making any kind of leap to do that. I don’t even paint that much but I could have done that all day long. I thought the digital tools for art could only get so good, but this is really encouraging, it makes me realize tech is going to catch up to the point where art created with traditional media and art created digitally could be indistinguishable. The tools disappear and you’re left to your creativity.  As the technology evolves and it becomes so natural to use that there’s no hurdle to jump through to create artwork with it, I think people will be able to more easily dive into the digital art world using devices like The Morph.

Q: How do you think the art community will feel about this?

J: I’ve already told a few of my friends about it and they’re pretty excited. It’s cool to see a device that is doing such a great job combining art and technology. It’s almost like being there the moment the mouse was introduced to computers. I really can’t wait to see everyone’s reaction.

A special thanks to Josh Ellingson for choosing The Morph to bring his art to life!  Check out the artist’s work here 

The Maker

A device that can be used out of the box for artists and musicians, but also be hacked by those more technically inclined, will inevitably have a large breadth of uses.  In order to help our community get a better picture of how truly extensive the possibilities are with Sensel’s first product, The Morph, we’ve decided to show them.

In the next three weeks, we will be releasing 3 videos, with more to come after our launch.  Each video will manifest one of the many ways that The Morph can be used.  The next two video releases will show the out-of-the box uses for the device with art and music.

This week’s video, however, focuses on the maker community and the “hack-ability” of our device.  At Sensel, we love having a product that is ready-to-go as is, but also hack-able for those who dare to create and innovate with technology.  Never before has such levels pressure sensitivity and multi-touch been integrated into maker projects (or even regular consumer products)– it’s almost like the maker community will be getting a new sixth sense to play around with; we’re so excited to see what they’ll create with this new technology!

Whether people decide to use it for IoT, to create a more natural gaming experience by using it as a controller, or in bringing their product to the next level of touch-technology, using the Sensel Morph will allow them to do things that haven’t been done before.

But, back to this week’s star: Ray Kampmeier.  Ray is an engineer, maker, and hobbyist from Minnesota who now resides in SF in order to live and breath tech.  Ray used The Morph as a controller for a robot arm.  It’s as awesome as it sounds (as you can see from the video).  We had some time to ask Ray about his experience and thoughts on the device.

Here’s is the Q&A with Ray that we wanted to share with our community:

S: When using the morph as a touch surface, what’s different about it versus a traditional track pad or capacitive pad?

R: The range of pressure sensing on this is better than any others I have seen. It’s really high resolution.  When the team at Sensel demonstrated the device to me, they had ran a napkin across the pad and The Morph was able to pick up the touch of this napkin and that blew me away. I’d never seen anything like that before.  Something like a paintbrush, a piece of paper, or an object as light as a napkin is able to record touch events on this pad and that, to me, is going to be revolutionary in this space.  At that moment it sort of unlocked a bunch of ideas in my mind for what we could use this pad for.

S: What were some of your ideas for how it could be used?

R: This is the first time you can control something so complex with a single hand.  There are only so many gestures you can achieve with five points of contact and adding that pressure domain totally opens it up, there are so many more permutations of gestures and movements that you can apply on this pad.  It could be vehicle control– you could be sitting in a car and controlling it entirely with all with one hand.  We could have elements of musical performance or theater controlled with a single hand.  It opens up so many possibilities: if an artist or performer is using one hand for one thing, they could have some very rich control with their other hand on a platform like The Morph.

I also think of music performances, DJ sets, laser shows.  If you have people who are in charge of effects and lighting and able to control those elements with this device, their experience would be much more fluid…it could turn it much more into a real-time performance, rather than playback; it’s less like a movie and more like an immersive experience.

In installation art, if you have these devices embedded in some art pieces and viewers are able to touch and explore and contact this device and see how it’s used to manipulate something, I think that would be a really magical sensation. For example, if the lighting is controlled by the Sensel Morph, viewers and attendees can explore this and touch and see how deep the levels of interaction with this pad are– because of the pressure sensitivity there’s so many ways someone could explore this device. Those are just some of the first uses I thought of since I often do work in instillation art and with lighting on DJ sets. It’s kind of crazy to think a DJ could be using the device to make beats and I could be using the same device to control lights. It’s just so versatile. Which I guess is where the name “Morph” came from.

S: What was the first thing you created with The Morph?

R: I had this idea to control a servo robot arm.  I was looking at The Morph and thinking, “how could I use this in a way that no other traditional pad has been used.”  I thought, the pressure sensitivity could add a new element, a new range of motion, so perhaps with one human hand I could use all the gestures of this pad to control a mechanical arm. So I got a real nifty acrylic laser-cut robot arm that’s controlled by four servo motors and mapped them to about four different gestures on the Sensel Morph.

S: Can you dive a bit into the gestures you set up for the control?

R: So there’s one where you’re putting five contact points down and you’re twisting your wrist and that will rotate the base of the robot arm.  There’s another gesture when you’re applying force on your four finger tips and that will raise and lower the robot arm. The xy location will extend or retract the arm. And finally– this is a really fun one– when you pinch all five fingertips together on the center of the pad, that will close the claw on the robot arm.  I thought it was a fun little demonstration of a new way you can use the touch surface to control physical things.

S: Where do you really see the pressure-sensitivity coming into play when you control the arm?

R: It’s a surprising element.  The pressure-sensitive touch aspect is something that people aren’t familiar with or used to on a touch surface like this. When you want the robot arm to lower, it’s almost an instinctive feeling to want to apply pressure and push your fingers into the pad, and I think it’s a surprise for the person controlling it that it actually does respond to that gesture. That gesture that you thought was just a natural response to the action you’re trying to perform is just another element this pad is picking up. It really adds a new dimension to user-device interaction that hasn’t been experienced before.  It feels natural.

Without the force sensitivity, I don’t think it would have been as magical of an experience for me to control the robot arm . It would have been a pretty binary detection of force—you have applied force and you have not-applied force. In this device, there’s a very robust range of force sensing. That level of control, and seeing that in the robot arm, gives a magical sense of feedback.

S:   What were your thoughts on the API? What was it like to program?

R: I was provided an API in Processing. I was pretty surprised with how straightforward the API was.  I’ve used other ones where they’re just dumping a bunch of data at me, and I don’t know what to do with it and have to really look into what I’m intended to do with that data.  In this case it was very simple and easy to use. It provides things like contact recognition so I don’t need to program the functionality of individually detecting contacts, that’s done for me. It tells me the pressure of certain contacts. It gives me the unique ID for contacts so as I drag my thumb across the screen and I have other points of contact down, I maintain a common handle on that thumb so I can reference where that thumb is as I drag it around.  It’ll tell you the surface area of the contacts, XY location, unique ID, it will even tell an orientation.  So, it’s a pretty robust set of features that’s provided to you by the API, and the Processing support is huge in the maker community so that’s great.

S: What do u think Sensel means for the maker community?

R: I think Sensel’s technology is opening up a new way to control things.  It can be used as a controller, but also for music, art, gaming, for the maker community– we can give these new sort of immersive experiences to friends and customers.  In my application I’m having it control a robot, which is just a novel little example of what it could do, but it could be so much more than that.  For makers, I’m really excited to see what people do with it. It really adds a whole new dimension of interaction and I think people will do some really awesome things with this kind of advanced input device.

A special thanks to Ray Kampmeier for letting us pick his brain. Stay tuned for more Q&A with artists and musicians who are using the Morph to create!

Here is a link to the code he used to control the robot arm if you’d like to take a stab at it yourself!

Check out the project on Ray’s website!

Taking Back The Interface

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[by Stephanie Chedíd]

You’ve all probably heard the term “user interface” before, but just in case you haven’t…:

  1. User Interface: (noun) the means by which the user and a computer system interact, in particular the use of input devices and software.

Most people  will read this definition and have no issue with it.  But here at Sensel, we aren’t completely satisfied.  In “User Interface”—  the word we have issue with is “user”.  The tech world has grown accustomed to viewing the humans that interact with computers simply as users rather than actual humans, with their own depth of knowledge, creativity, and physical language, and to the detriment of anyone who uses computers, user interfaces have evolved accordingly.  Tech developers have forgotten to take into consideration the humans behind the “user”, the details of their interaction, the imperfections and precision and expression they’re capable of communicating with when using hands.

At Sensel, we like to think we’re taking back the interface— evolving it from a “user interface” to a “human interface” by enabling people to communicate with technology that truly captures their expressions— not just the shapes but the lines and pressure and force that their hands use to express, whether they’re playing video games or pumping up a crowd with some new beats.

Let’s take a brief moment to rewind:

Once upon a time, the word “computers” referred to actual people.  That’s right, people.  Before World War II, (sometime after the glory days of the abacus and before the magic of Texas Instruments) many citizens were hired, essentially, as human calculators— these people were called “computers”.  Later on, a different breed of “computers”, which were mechanical calcluators (ENIAC is one such example), were borne out of military research during WWII.  IBM later saw an opportunity and started to commercialize these kinds of calculating computers.

I know what you’re thinking: Cool factoids— what’s your point?  Computers started with humans, as humans, even.  After a long time away, we think it’s time to incorporate the “human” back into our interactions with computers.

Remember when Sega Genesis came out? No? Nintendo, Xbox? Now I feel old… The point is, I bet you can recall playing with each (ok, at least one) of these consoles and how you used to press extra hard on the controller buttons when you wanted to go faster, or stop sooner, or jump higher.  Why did you do that?  You knew it wouldn’t make a difference.  The button was a button, and it was going to perform the same action, with the same (lack of) precision, at the same (static) intensity, no matter how hard you pressed.  As humans we use our hands to communicate, just like we use our words and our facial expressions— so this behavior, though lacking in logic, was quite natural.

Isn’t it a shame, though, that you can recall the same frustration with the limited ability to communicate through these input devices from the 80s with Sega to thirty years later with Xbox?  It’s weird how the games have evolved, but the ways in which we interact with them have not.  Or maybe you’ve never questioned it until now.  Well, here at Sensel we’ve been questioning this for years (or rather, since the first time we broke a game controller button from pressing too hard, and questioned why we did it.)

Technological evolution is good, but evolving in the wrong direction could sometimes be worse than not evolving at all.  Sensel is here to steer the evolution of the interface back in the right direction— from a limited “user interface” to a limitless “human interface”.  We believe that when you press on your controller harder, Yoshi should jump higher—case closed.