by Paul Mah

New Technology Brings Physical Buttons to Touch Screens

Jun 13, 20122 mins
Computers and PeripheralsMobileSmall and Medium Business

Tactus Technology has developed a new system that uses fluids to create physical “keys” on touch screens. The technology could make its way to smartphones, tablets, laptops and many more gadgets in the coming years.

Tactus Technology last week demonstrated a touch-screen user-interface technology that’s straight out of a science-fiction novel. Touted as the world’s first deformable tactile surface, the Tactus Tactile Layer panel utilizes microfluidic technology to create physical bumps that rise from a touchscreen and serve as buttons that users can see and feel.


From the associated press release:

“When triggered, the thin layer deforms and buttons or shapes of a specific height, size and firmness appear on the surface of the screen. Users can feel, press down and interact with these physical buttons just like they would use keys on a keyboard. The buttons recede into the surface and become invisible when they are no longer needed.”

Tactus Technology says its Tactile Layer panel is completely flat and transparent, and the panel adds no extra thickness to a standard touchscreen display. The new technology could be used in a variety of gadgets, including smartphones, e-book readers, tablets, mobile computers and automotive displays.

However, the technology does have some limitations. Tech website The Verge reports that once the fluid channels are built they cannot be changed. Though Tactus showed off the technology on a prototype Android tablet, this limitation restricts its use to fixed orientations only. The technology in its current state works more like a capacitive touchscreen, and buttons must be triggered before users can depress the keys.

Tactus Technology is working on improving the tactile feedback, though. More from The Verge:

“Down the line, once the technology has further progressed, the team thinks that the fluid system will allow screens to measure variations in pressure, giving the buttons have a sort of ‘analog’ response like most popular video game controllers.”

The technology could also prove to be a battery hog, since it will need to move the required fluid around to create and flatten the tactile bumps.

I don’t think the Tactile Layer panel will replace standard keyboards any time soon, but the technology will likely start appearing in high-end consumer electronics during the next couple of years. The first Tactus products are expected to become available in late 2013.

Check out the video above to see the technology in action.