This February, the Japanese technology company Fujitsu revealed a prototype for a new kind of touchscreen. Unlike conventional touchscreens, which only allow the user to supply physical input to the screen, Fujitsu’s new technology can send signals the other way, providing physical feedback to the user’s actions. This means that the interface you interact with on-screen feels like it really exists in 3D, with lumps, bumps and textures.
Technology like this is known as ‘haptic’, from the Ancient Greek word ‘haptikos’, meaning ‘touchable’. It isn’t a cutting-edge concept by any means, but Fujitsu have introduced some new innovations which they think could greatly improve the experience. By using ultrasonic vibrations – sound waves too high-pitched to be heard by human ears – they can create a tiny cushion of air under the user’s finger where it touches the screen, reducing the friction between the two and making the surface feel slippery. They can also create a rough texture by mixing low- and high-friction areas together.
Although haptic feedback in touchscreens is primarily intended to supplement visual interfaces, it also improves usability for the visually impaired. There’s no word yet on whether Fujitsu’s screen will be sophisticated enough to display touchable Braille, but it’s only a prototype at the moment so it’s possible that they have more ideas up their sleeve.
So far only a demo version exists of the screen, with sample applications in which you can strum the strings of a Japanese harp or stroke a scaly crocodile. However, Fujitsu has announced that it plans to have this technology in commercial use in 2015.
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Top image was taken from the Fujitsu website.