Microsoft patent promises tactile feedback for touch screens

Touch screens are everywhere, and they’re only going to become more prevalent as smart phones and tablets continue to grow in popularity. However, for all their multi-touch wizardry, touch screens are painfully lacking in the area of tactile feedback. Some, like Nokia, have tackled the issue with haptic feedback systems that use vibrations to provide users with a sense of touch. According to a recent patent filing uncovered by New Scientist, Microsoft is taking a different approach.

The patent in question refers to a display that uses a layer of “shape-memory” plastic that changes its physical properties in response to UV light. Depending on the wavelength of light used, the layer can be made to feel soft or hard to the touch. The shape-memory plastic can also be activated to protrude, introducing the possibility of truly tactile textures.

According to Erez Kikin-Gil, the Microsoft researcher responsible for the patent, this feedback mechanism was designed with an eye toward the company’s Surface touch, er, table. It’s unclear whether the technology would work in significantly smaller slates and smart phones, but I hope it can. Dual-screen notebooks like Toshiba’s Libretto and Acer’s Iconia really need tactile feedback for their virtual keyboards, and I’d much rather that done with textures than vibration. Even the touchpads on standard notebooks could use a little tactile feedback, and that might be easier to achieve because the shape-memory plastic layer wouldn’t have to be transparent like it would in a touch screen.

Comments closed
    • darc
    • 12 years ago

    This is a big step forward. It really brings the whole fully-adaptable touch sensitive display concept to fruition. I think the biggest challenge they’re going to face, though, will be in the longevity of materials – or, from the consumer’s perspective, the lifespan of the product.

    • odizzido
    • 12 years ago

    It can protrude eh? Well, it’s only a matter of time now.

    • lilbuddhaman
    • 12 years ago

    AHA ! They said I would never feel a woman’s touch, but who cares when my future computer has “texture for MY pleasure”

    • urbain
    • 12 years ago

    very thoughful of MS…not

    • Voldenuit
    • 12 years ago

    Another thing I wouldn’t mind seeing would be a commercially available (and priced) Surface.

    Sounds perfect for Starcraft II. Or Ruse ;).

    • HisDivineShadow
    • 12 years ago

    Between the Kinect technology eventually (with the use of HD cameras) being thought capable of reading sign language and the implications of something like this for the blind, Microsoft is creating great technology for people who may not always be remembered.

    • ssidbroadcast
    • 12 years ago

    A phone whose screen texture itself changes as the content being displayed changes? The future is (almost) now.

    • Jigar
    • 12 years ago

    This can be a boon for blind people.

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