Wednesday, June 6, 2012

A new vision for touch screen displays

Most new mobile devices such as cell phones and tablets make use of touch screen technology. And while that might give them an elegant look, it's not a great deal of help to the visually impaired, who may experience a great deal of difficulty using one.

Now, however, engineers at an outfit called Tactus Technology (Fremont, CA, USA) have developed a rather nifty technical solution to the problem.

The company's so-called patented deformable tactile surface called the "Tactile Layer" enables on-screen buttons to rise up from the surface of a touch screen when an application calls for them to do so. Users can feel, press down and interact with the physical buttons just like they would use keys on a keyboard.

A quick look at the patented technology (for a list of patents, please see link below) reveals that the engineers at Tactus Technology created the system using a network of fluidic channels that are coupled to cavities underneath the specific areas on the display. When called upon to do so by an application, the fluid is pumped into these cavities, causing regions on the surface of the deformable display to be raised. When no longer required, the fluid is released from the cavity, leaving no trace of the deformity.

The company says that because the Tactile Layer panel is a completely flat, transparent, dynamic surface, it adds no extra thickness to the standard touch screen display since it replaces a layer of the already existing display stack.

Tactus Technology has already demonstrated the capability of the technology on a prototype Google Android tablet, as the result of a partnership between the company and Touch Revolution (Redwood City, CA, USA), a unit of TPK Holding -- the largest-volume glass projected capacitive multi-touch screen manufacturer in the world.

While the company is obviously keen to market the technology to manufacturers of high volume devices, I can't help but think that there might also be some rather interesting applications for this technology in the field of machine vision too.

The most obvious one, of course, would be in the touch panel screens that are commonly used as Human Machine Interfaces (HMIs) in vision systems that allow users to set up and/or modify the parameters of their vision inspection systems.

Like consumers, many operators of such machines are also faced with poor typing speed, errors and insufficient feedback. And it's here that the Tactus technology could be mighty useful too.

A list of patents that detail the technology behind the device is available here.

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