17.11.11

True touch means really feeling

Swiss researchers have developed a haptic technology that they claim will pave the way for a new generation of touch screens. The technology developed at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) uses a vibrating material to create the feeling of raised keys under your finger. The vibrations, caused by voltage changes, are imperceptible to human touch but do create relief effects on a surface.

“The term ‘touch screen’ that’s used to describe current technology is really a misnomer, because they only provide visual and auditory feedback,” said Christophe Winter, a PhD student at the EPFL. Winter is part of the team at the organisation’s Integrated Actuators Laboratory (LAI) that developed the technology that can control the texture of screens. “We’re adding the sense of touch to tactile surfaces,” he adds.

Researches say this added layer of information will improve usability of touch display and improve user experience. Furthermore it has massive implications on how visually impaired people can interact with touchscreens.

The scientists have used piezoelectric material that vibrates when a voltage is applied to it. The material expands and then returns to its original shape very rapidly, all at a nanometer scale.



“This movement generates micro-vibrations, whose intensity can be controlled mechanically,” said Yves Perriard, director of the LAI. “These vibrations – whose amplitude is only about a micron, or one-hundredth of the thickness of a human hair – are themselves imperceptible to us. But they create a very thin layer of air between the surface and a user’s finger, giving him or her the feeling that there’s something raised underneath it,” the EPFL website states.