Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Tactile pixels in display allows blind users to "feel" touch screens

From Mobiledia:

New display technology is allowing users to "feel" touch screens, giving the blind a way to interact with mobile devices.

Senseg's E-Sense technology, being developed in Sweden, recreates the sensation of different textures on touch screen devices. It uses "tixels," or "tactile pixels," to generate an electric field a few millimeters above the device's surface, enabling skin to feel finely tuned sensations replicating different textures.

The technology is similar to the concept of haptic feedback, which vibrates to confirm that a finger touch has been accepted, but has even farther-reaching implications.

Braille reading would be one immediate application for the technology. The blind and visually-impaired would be able to take advantage of the tactile-pixel technology, assisting them in reading messages on touch screen devices like smartphones. Down the road, the technology may even allow people to, for example, touch the face of a newborn baby or hold the hand of the long-lost friend.

Senseg said the technology may also create knobs, buttons and other tactile elements for the increasingly-popular mobile gaming market. Handset makers, currently struggle for placement of controls on the limited space of smartphones, may also find a use for tactile displays.

The emerging technology follows the larger trend of integrating human senses into electronic gadgetry. Earlier this year, Apple reportedly started developing a voice interface, after its purchase of Nuance, maker of the popular Dragon dictation software.

Senseg's E-Sense technology is reportedly inexpensive and relatively easy to implement, with Toshiba the first company to sign up to explore ways the feature in its products.

As other companies partner with the Swedish company, the discovery that the touch screen doesn't have to be flat may revolutionize the digital device market in much the same way Columbus' similar conclusion about the shape of the earth affected mapmaking centuries ago.