Student Innovation Challenge

The student innovation challenge focuses on making the world a better place through haptics. This year, participants will build mobile applications using the TPad Phone. The TPad Phone is an Android smartphone with a variable-friction haptic display. Students will write an Android application that uses the haptic display to solve some real-world problem. The challenge is sponsored by Microsoft, and teams will compete for $3,000 in cash prizes. Each member of a winning team will also receive a brand new Microsoft Surface Pro 3, up to 12 total.

Challenge Entries

A list of all the entries in the challenge is shown below. To view all the Student Challenge videos as a playlist, click here.

One of the awards given to the student teams is a People's Choice Award chosen by attendees of the World Haptics Conference. VOTE HERE for the People's Choice Award.

Matti Strese, Clemens Schuwerk, Dmytro Bobkov
Technical University of Munich

Imagine you are using your mobile device to browse the Internet for new furniture, home decoration or clothes. Today’s systems provide us only with information about the look of the products, but how does their surface feel when touched? For the future, we imagine systems that allow us to remotely enjoy the look and feel of products. The impact of such technology could be enormous, especially for E-Commerce. Tangible example applications are product customization, selection of materials, product browsing or virtual product showcases. The “Remote Texture Exploration“ app displays surface textures using the TPad Phone, which can be received from a texture database or from remote smartphones. Vibration and audio feedback is included to enrich the user experience. The texture models used to display textures recreate important dimensions of human tactile perception, like roughness or friction. New texture models are created using live recordings from the smartphone sensors (IMU, camera, microphone).

Domenico Buongiorno, Domenico Chiaradia, Massimiliano Gabardi, Michele Barsotti
Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna

Tactile Blind Photography is an app for TPad Phone designed to help visually impaired people to take pictures of their friends (or taking selfies!) to improve their social experience and personal gratification.

The developed app improves photography experience by guiding the user taking a picture, a task reported very difficult by visually impaired people. The app allows to automatically detect faces on the scene and helps the blind photographer to take a picture by providing both audio and tactile feedback.

Finally, tactile feedback of the picture is provided by processing the image, in order to reduce complexity and to evidence only relevant features (i.e. people’s faces and picture edges). Two blind people tested our app reporting their feelings about the interaction with the TPad Phone.

Mariacarla Memeo, Fabio Tatti, Maria Laura D'Angelo
Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia, Genova

Classic musical readers for the visually impaired population use textual representation, representing notes with their Braille name preceded by possible alterations. Several technical challenges prevent this notation from being implemented on variable friction devices such as the TPad phone. While reading braille from these devices is challenging, they are optimized for the exploration of tactile maps and the encoding of spatial information.

A classic music stave is in itself a spatial map and provides an intuitive and efficient representation of music whereby temporal and pitch information are encoded in the note’s position. We exploited this property, in an android application for the TPad phone, which uses variable friction and vibration to create an interactive haptic stave where textures and haptic cues allow the user to browse and read sections of music on a hand-held device.

Gabriel Figueiredo, Matheus Tura, Bruno Cattelan, Wagner Rampon
Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul

Password typing and pattern drawing are widely spread ways to grant access to systems. However, both are vulnerable to malicious users that can sneak around and look while you type or drag. Current biometric solutions have implications on the user agreeing to supply very personal data, such as fingerprint or iris pattern. Moreover, multi-user access with biometry is limited, as authorization is only possible to a new user if they are present to be signed up. A haptic password, on the other hand, can provide anonymity and can be shared others. The idea is to use friction-based barcodes. First, the user creates a numerical password. Afterwards, in a continuous route-independent drag, the user counts high-friction tactile lines separated by random spaces. When the touch is interrupted, the current count becomes one numerical input. When all the inputs are inserted in the correct order, the access is granted.

Hasit Mistry, Ashik Samad, Fida AlSughayer, Hsin Cheng Chen
University of Washington Bothell

Concepts of Physics are best understood when paired with practical experiences. In addition to establishing the link between the abstract and the tangible, experiments enhance the kinesthetic experience which, in turn, strengthens learning.

Physics experiments are conventionally restricted to specialized computer simulations or costly physical equipment. We are designing an educational tool that uses Haptic Feedback to enhance the experience of learning the fundamentals of Physics through experiments.

The app will allow users to simulate complex environments, compute forces acting on objects and predict the results. The user can construct different scenarios by placing objects, moving them across the screen and watching the environment react. They can adjust variables like gravity, weights of objects, elevation, and friction of surfaces.

Haptic feedback is employed to simulate forces in order to give a realistic field of experimentation, as compared to conventional tools.

Brenna Li, Gordon Minaker, Paul Bucci, Oliver Schneider
University of British Columbia

Finger painting just wouldn’t be same without the feeling of wet paint on your fingers. We set out to enhance the experience of drawing, painting, writing, and other mark-marking interactions with touchscreen devices. We’ve explored what mark-making tools should feel like through the lens of a drawing application: Roughsketch. The app features several mark-making tools including a pen, paint brush, eraser, airbrush, and pan/zoom sensations. The TPad Phone helps us bring these tools to life, delivering a delightful sensation to touchscreens - both with your fingertip, and with a stylus.

Cristina Ramírez-Fernández, Edgar Barreras-Sosa, Octavio Valenzuela
Universidad Autónoma de Baja California

This app is a haptic augmented reality system (HARS) for the treatment of small animal phobia. The treatment uses the systematic desensitization in the interaction with the animal. The HARS has three levels of interaction: ludic, formal and augmented. In addition, the HARS has three animals identified through a contextual study with 120 teenagers between 11 to 17 years old. The HARS has three main components: 1) selection of the animal (e. g. spider, cockroach, snake) and the diagnostic of phobia using the manual of mental disorders; 2) the treatment where patients can see, touch and hear the small animal; and 3) the statistics on stress and the time interacting with the animal. The HARS objectively measured the stress (accelerometer) and the time touching the animal (variable-friction haptic display). Finally, the stress data are classified and predicted using support vector machines.

Yongjae Yoo, Hojun Cha

Secrecy is a critical issue for smartphones. However, the current input methods for access codes are vulnerable to the shoulder surfers. For example, lock patterns can be easily captured or even worse, the last keyboard entry remains unmasked and can be easily stolen. As a solution to this problem we propose TeXecure, a texture-based on-screen secure input method. TeXecure offers several easily distinguishable textures as secure input. Instead of typing a password or drawing a pattern, a user needs to remember and select a series of textures as an access code. TeXecure can be embedded in various applications such as bank transactions, PIN inputs or even lock-screen of Android phones.

Dennis Babu, Daniel Gongora, Seonghwan Kim, Shunya Sakata
Tohoku University

User interactions with the recent smartphones and tablets are visually rich but poor in the sense of touch and thus is not fully immersive. We propose the HelloHapticWorld: a haptics educational kit which uses the variable friction of the TPad to virtually simulate the haptic sensation of tele-operated robot onto the fingertips of the user. The kit contains a mobile robot controlled by TPad and a modifiable field consisting of obstacles and road slopes of different sizes and shapes. This kit contributes in educating kids about haptic experiences by creating and exploring a DIY haptic world.

Salient Features of HelloHapticWorld

  • The forward and sideways swipe gestures in the TPad screen with variable friction feedback are used for robot control in forward and angular trajectories respectively.
  • Distance mapping of the obstacles and subsequent variable friction based haptic feedback.
  • Haptic reconstruction of road slope in TPad screen using variable friction display.

About the Challenge

How to Participate

To participate, your team must submit a one page application describing your concept and team qualifications. Ten teams will be chosen, and will be sent a TPad Phone. You will have several weeks to write and test your applications before presenting your work at the World Haptics Conference in Evanston, IL, USA to conference attendees and a jury. At least one presenter will be expected to attend the full conference, and will be responsible for applicable registration fees. 

TPad Phone

The Hardware

The TPad Phone is a variable friction haptic display on an Android smartphone. It uses ultrasonic friction-reduction to change the resistance force on your finger as it slides around the screen. This effect can be used to create perceptions of texture, shape, and dynamics. More information on the details can be found at and

The Challenge

Participants will create an Android application for the TPad Phone that attempts to solve some real world problem. The variable friction display must be a significant part of your application, but you may also use any other capabilities of the TPad Phone, and may use it to connect to other hardware or web services. Useful complementary components include the vibration motor, accelerometer, front and back cameras, Wifi, Bluetooth, and GPS. 

Submission Requirements

How to Apply

To enter the challenge, a team must submit a single page description of their concept, including a 150-word written description as well as a wire frame or sketch. Each team member should also include a short statement of what experience they have in haptics or software, and 1 or 2 samples of previous work.


The challenge is open to both undergraduate and graduate students. Teams may have between 2 and 4 members. Teams are free to enlist professors, teachers, and professionals as advisors, but the work must be done by the students only, and all team members must be students at the time of submitting the application.

Writing a Good Submission

There are many possible applications of variable friction haptic displays. For example, one compelling problem is to make applications more accessible for people with visual impairments or for people in situations where vision can’t be used. However, don’t let your creativity stop there. Haptics can also improve the experience of an interaction that is primarily visually or audibly based with increased expression or better feedback. A good submission will address a real world problem in a creative way.

Your one page concept submission should help us understand:

  • What problem you are trying to solve, and why it is important.
  • Why haptics, and variable friction in particular is a good solution.
  • What your app will do and how people will interact with it.

Your personal statements and work samples should help us understand:

  • How your skill set will contribute in your team.
  • Past results in time constrained situations.

Good design requires iteration, and we don’t expect your final app to be exactly as you described in your submission, but your concept description should be well thought out, and should have a plausible chance of working.


Submissions are now closed. If you are interested in the Challenge, please enter your name and email address here, and we will keep you updated on everything Student Challenge related.

Travel Grant Application

As we have very limited funds to support student travel, students are highly encouraged to raise funds to support their own travel expenses. Possible sources include local companies, and the department or dean’s office at your university. Additionally, three $1000 travel grants are being made available to accepted teams to help students defer travel costs. Travel grants are considered separately from the main application, and on the basis of need. Travel grant applications will be available on April 20.

Creating Your Haptic Application

Introduction to the TPad Phone

Below is a short YouTube video playlist introduction to the TPad Phone. It covers the basics of what it is and what it can do so that you're ready to get hands-on and create your own haptic effects.

TPad Phone Youtube Playlist (Links to an external site.)

Installing Software

Using the TPad Phone requires programming an Andoid application. We suggest using Eclipse as your IDE, although Android Studio is also an option. We've put together a step-by-step guide to everything you need to have on your computer in order to get started with programming the TPad Phone in Eclipse.

Guide to Programming TPad Phone (Google doc, links to an external site.)

Additionally, for those who aren’t familiar with programming for Android, there is a video tutorial series on that goes through all the basics. Every student accepted to the competition will have access to a getting started course on Lynda. On the site, search for Android SDK Essential Training. Especially helpful will be:

  • #1 About Andoid- Understanding the App Architecture (8min),
  • #2 Getting Started- A brief tour of Eclipse with the ADT plugin (3min)
  • #3 Exploring the structure of an Android Project (9min), and
  • #5 Debugging Java code with Logcat (8min).

Sample Code

The best way to get started programming is to download and compile the HelloTPadPhone app. It contains the main methods used to control the TPad. The source code for this, as well as the source code for other TPad Phone applications is at

The Conference

Before the Conference

Teams will submit compiled versions of their applications along with a 150 word description and 1 minute video by 11:59 pm PST June 19, 2015. The video should briefly explain the problem being solved, and show the application in action.


Awards will be presented to the top submission of each of the three categories below as chosen by the jury panel.

  • Quality of haptic feeling
  • Originality/creativity
  • Utility

Each member of each winning team member will receive a Microsoft Surface Pro 3. Additionally, a $1500 cash prize will be awarded for the “overall best interaction”, a $1000 cash prize for the “people’s choice” as voted on by conference attendees, and a $500 cash prize for honorable mention. Jurors will represent both industry and research, as well as the design and visually impaired communities.

During the Conference

A special demonstration time will allow jurors to interact and try the applications in person. Additionally, we are taking advantage of the nature of the hardware by introducing mobile demonstrations. During the conference, student innovators will carry their demos with them. We will make announcements and provide t-shirts so that people know to look for you and can find you in the crowd. Teams are encouraged to make the apps available to conference-goers as much as possible during breaks, meals, and other in-between times. This is a great opportunity to meet and start conversations with potential future research advisors or employers.


Q:  Do I own the intellectual property and source code?
A:  Absolutely, you own anything you develop.

Q:  Can I publish a paper resulting from this?
A:  Yes.

Q:  Can people outside the team help me develop the code?
A:  Help on things like debugging, sample code, and learning Java is completely fine. Only team members are allowed to write large pieces of code. The only exception to this is that you are permitted to incorporate free and open-source software and free APIs.

Q:  Can my advisor help?
A:  Advisors can advise, but the core ideas and decisions should come from the team members.

Q:  Do I get to keep the TPad Phone?
A:  Yes. If you want to keep the TPad Phone for further research, it's yours to keep.

Q:  Can I just take an application that already exists and add haptics to it?
A:  Similar to how academic papers are refereed, we are looking at your particular contribution- what you are adding to what existed before. Don’t reinvent the wheel, but having a great app and then tacking on haptics as an afterthought is not a winning recipe either. We want your focus to be on solving a problem through haptics. Use your best judgment, and keep in mind that one of the judging criteria is originality.

Q:  Does everyone on the team have to come to the conference?
A:  At least one team member must attend the entire conference, but we encourage everyone to come. It’s a good conference. It’s worth it.

Q:  If we have less than 4 team members, do we still get 4 Surface Pro 3s?
A:  No. One Surface Pro per team member.  

For more info:

Important Dates

March 14, 2015

Applications Open

April 14, 2015

Applications Due (all deadlines 11:59 PST)

April 17, 2015

Teams Notified

April 19, 2015

Phones Sent, Deadline for Conference Registration

June 19, 2015

Apps and Videos Due

June 22, 2015

Conference Begins

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