Gel gives touch screens temporary buttons

Gel gives touch screens temporary buttons
Researchers have developed a system called GelTouch which can give touch screens buttons and enable tactile multi-touch feedback. The system works by using a thin layer of gel over the touch screen which could assist those who cannot see the screen, along with blind or partially sighted people. Buttons can be formed or reformed by heating or cooling the gel.

The researchers believe the technology could be especially useful in situations where can’t look at the touch screen, such as in modern vehicles where the displays are used to control multiple functions within the vehicle. They also propose that using GelTouch prevents accidental activation that touch screens are susceptible to.

The project is the work of researchers at Berlin’s Telekom Innovation Laboratories and Institute of Chemistry along with members of the Department of Computer Science at Aarhus University in Denmark. The gel-based layer they created can transition between soft and stiff to provide tactile multi-touch feedback. As well as being flexible, the gel is transparent when not activated.

In a paper describing the elements of the technology, researchers explained: “GelTouch consists of a poly(N-isopropylacrylamide) gel layer which alters its viscoelasticity when activated by applying heat (>32 ?C). We present three different activation techniques: 1) Indium Tin Oxide (ITO) as a heating element that enables tactile feedback through individually addressable taxels; 2) predefined tactile areas of engraved ITO, that can be layered and combined; 3) three-dimensional arrangements of resistance wire that create thin tactile edges. We present a tablet with 6x4 tactile areas, enabling a tactile numpad, slider, and thumbstick.”

The work will be presented at a user-interface conference in North Carolina, USA in November.