June 7, 2012

New Technology Adds Touch Feel To Touchscreens

Lee Rannals for

Tactus Technology unveiled a new technology at the SID Display Week 2012 that brings the feedback of touching something back to a smartphone.

The company showed off a prototype Android tablet that was able to provide haptic feedback to the user, using keys that appeared and disappeared.

The "keys" rise out of the touchscreen and provide a tactile feel for the user's fingers, receding back down into the touchscreen once they are no longer needed.

The engineers behind the device used a tiny of amount of fluid that is pumped through channels in order to raise certain areas of the touchscreen to give it a keyboard feel.

“When triggered, the thin layer deforms and buttons or shapes of a specific height, size and firmness appear on the surface of the screen,” Tactus wrote in a press release. “Users can feel, press down and interact with these physical buttons just like they would use keys on a keyboard. The buttons recede into the surface and become invisible when they are no longer needed.”

The longterm goal of the project is to have a finer control over a variety of patterns, so app developers would be able to potentially create applications that take advantage of the haptic feedback technology.

The technology works similarly to the current vibration-based feedback system used in touch screens. However, Tactus Technology was quick to point out its method was not a simple vibration trick.

“To emphasize, this is not a trick of your senses using vibration or stimulation, but rather real physical buttons that rise out of the surface of the screen,” the company wrote on its website.

Tactus Technology said its Tactile Layer system easily integrates with today's touchscreen-based devices by simply replacing the front layer of the display stack.

It said that its Tactile Layer component is the same thickness as the layer it replaces, and requires no change to the underlying display or touch sensor.

The company is currently looking for manufactures to use its patented technology into next-generation devices.  Devices that will use this technology are expected to hit the market in 2013.

The Verge reported after getting some hands-on time with the technology that the buttons can be distracting.

"Still, once you notice the outlines of where the keys appear and disappear, they're hard to un-see (though we expect future versions will more naturally integrate the microfluid channels)," Nathan Ingraham of The Verge wrote in a review.

He also reported that the system is lower power consumption, draining less than two percent battery for a whole day of use.