Tangible, Changeable, Multitouch Controls


iPhones and iPod touches have many advantages over the plain iPod. Have you ever wished you could advance tracks without looking though? That is a perfect example of where the current display/ input trends are lacking. There is no tactile feedback. [Chris Harrison], a Ph.D student at Carnegie Mellon has been working on an alternative.

His displays are rear projected and multitouch like many of the other multitouch systems we’ve seen. However, his also offer tactile feedback by changing their physical shape. Much like a vac-u-form, he is using vacuum to deform a flexible surface over different shapes. Not only are they able to do simple 2 state systems where you have smooth, then vacuumed, they can also do a third state by pressurizing the inside of the display. You can see several variations in the video.

17 thoughts on “Tangible, Changeable, Multitouch Controls

  1. Sounds pretty cool. The thing that it’s now lacking is flexibility.

    For example the ipod touch, you can write a program to have buttons of any size and shape anywhere on the screen. Once created you can send it to any user and they can all use it on their device. With this device there is a specific cutout that limits the creativity on the programmers end.

    Overall, I would like to see and use a proof of concept device with this technology, and I do agree that it is quite unique, but I don’t think that it will be the next big step for technology.

  2. remember those things when you were a kid where you’d put your hand on the back of it and it was like a bed of nails, and then when you pressed you could see it on the other side and it was awesome?
    if you know what i’m talking about, make a small one of those (with smaller nails and shorter pins, of course) and put it behind the screen. use servos or some shit (maybe hydraulics?) to raise and lower the nails. this’ll not only give you basically a screen with large pixels in which you can make buttons with, but you can change the height of the buttons.

  3. And what happens when the screen on your iPhone pops because you pressed the “button” too hard or your girlfriend with extra sharp fingernails uses it and it springs a leak?

  4. Given the first few pictures are of fixed controls, he is showing that those fixed controls could be replaced by his, which is why it doesn’t need to change from the one shape. But given the cost, and with it’s inability to change to another shape you’d still be better sticking to physical controls.

    I think something along the lines of Nokias haptikos is a better way of delivering this kind of

  5. It’s a shame we cannot effectively control matter with great precision. If there was a way to put another layer in there, only that changes according to the button display, we wouldn’t need to have predefined displays.

  6. The problem I have with using my iPod Touch is that I have no idea where the buttons are. I’m not too bothered whether I can feel them or not, I just need to know where on that slab of smooth glass the “>>” button is.

    And they could do that by making the device vibrate slightly or beep whenever a finger is run over a button on the screen.

    I think the idea in the video is fundamentally flawed, because all you’re doing is replacing one set of fixed physical buttons with another set of physical buttons.

    This is why the Star Trek universe will never become reality – it must be hard fighting the Borg off if, in order to control your star ship you have to keep looking at your hands.

  7. i could see this being a good idea if you could make a grid of small enough dots and only have certain ones go up when there is buttons active on them but you would have to make individual chambers and hook them all up and it doesn’t sound like that would be cost effective with current stuff

  8. Recently in science class (high school)
    that an energised copper wire coil with a permanent magnet inside will be harder to push in when it is
    energized. What if you were to use this with a
    matrix of tiny magnetized iron filings, with a grid
    of copper wire coils running underneath. This will
    push the iron filings out, and once programmed to
    do so for larger areas it will seem to be a button.
    Then, all one must do is have the touch screen functions take from there. With the demonstration
    of the forces exerted on iron filings in science class and books, I don’t think it would be too
    difficult to understand this happening in a programmed matrix of wires. (And for those concerned for the magnetically vulnerable parts of the device (ie. the HD) I suppose you could use a faraday cage to block out most electromagnetic radiation from the copper wires, and I suppose something similar for the magnetic radiation) Just wondering if that might work for more flexibility than pre-machined shapes.

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