25.09.13

Touch breakthrough heralds 'communications revolution'

A user interface technology that paves the way for digital systems to record, store, edit and replay touch information was recently detailed in a report by researchers at the University of California, San Diego. Deli Wang, the professor who headed up the research project said: "Being able to reproduce the sense of touch in connection with audio and visual information could create a new communications revolution".

A paper detailing the research team’s findings appeared in Nature Publishing Group’s Scientific Reports, published online at the end of August, 2013.

It argues that the technology will find uses in health and medicine but adds that the communication of touch signals could have far-reaching implications for education, social networking, e-commerce, robotics, gaming, and military applications, among others. 

The sensors and sensor arrays reported in the paper are also fully transparent, which makes it particularly interesting for touch-screen applications.

“Touch was largely bypassed by the digital revolution, except for touch-screen displays, because it seemed too difficult to replicate what analogue haptic devices — or human touch — can produce,” said Deli Wang, a professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) in UC San Diego’s Jacobs School of Engineering. 

“But think about it: being able to reproduce the sense of touch in connection with audio and visual information could create a new communications revolution.”

Wang is the senior author of the paper. Co-authors include 11 researchers at UC San Diego, including fellow ECE professor Truong Nguyen, and UCLA professor Qibing Pei, whose team contributed to the sections on using polymer actuators for analogue reproduction of recorded touch.

In their Scientific Reports paper, the researchers reported the electronic recording of touch contact and pressure using an active-matrix pressure sensor array made of transparent zinc-oxide (ZnO), thin-film transistors (TFTs). 

The companion tactile feedback display used an array of diaphragm actuators made of an acrylic-based dielectric elastomer with the structure of an interpenetrating polymer network (IPN). The polymer actuators’ actuation – the force and level of displacement — are modulated by adjusting both the voltage and charging time.