This weeks Science Saturday installment is a little different. A good friend of mine came across this and shared it with me, so I thought it was fitting to share with you guys.
Once in a while, you come across something so new, so crazy, outrageous and cool, which could be something life changing. These science-fiction gems sometimes become science fact (the iPhone being one) and become the readily accepted norm, or they remain some sort of “one man dream”, never to become mainstream, which seems to have what happened to E-Ink.
But I think we’ve stumbled onto a contender for the former. Tactus is the start-up behind this brainchild, who have perfected a morphing touch-screen which changes the physical shape of the screen so that completely transparent physical buttons rise up from a touch-screen surface on demand. This allows the user can actually feel the keys as they type. And when you’re done typing, the screen morphs flat again. It’s like something out of Star Trek.
Their Tactile Layer technology is based on microfluidics, wherein a series of tiny channels are arranged beneath the flexible surface of the touch-screen through which a reservoir of special oil can be pumped, ‘inflating’ the keys. This technology can be used by OEM’s (and not just limited to tablets or phones, but ANYTHING with a screen and a button) to replace the front layer of the display stack, known as the “lens”, “window” or “cover glass”. The dynamic Tactile Layer component is the same thickness as the layer it replaces and requires no change to the underlying display or touch sensor.
The channels only fit one pattern as of now, that of a QWERTY keyboard, however, future versions will be able to conform to any configuration the manufacturer desires. The idea is also for apps to be able to rearrange the fluids in the channels to create their own unique interfaces for users. One example that comes to mind would be the game-pad on many of today’s games. With current technology, it’s difficult to centre your finger on the floating game-pad Using this technology, though, you would have a deformable membrane you can actually feel and keep your finger on. The technology does have it limitations, though. Once the fluid channels are embedded, there is no way to rearrange them. This could cause problems with things like changing the orientation of a tablet from landscape to portrait.
Production is expected late 2013 or early 2014. I cannot wait to see this used on the next iPhone/iPad killer 🙂