Dynamic Buttons Are Weird Blobs You Can Press

Imagine a flat surface that has no buttons on it, until they raise up like bubbles of goo for you to touch them. The Future Interface Group at Carnegie-Mellon has apparently developed just that. They’re calling the technology DynaButtons, and they look kinda weird…and very awesome.

The buttons use electro-osmotic pump technology. Basically, electricity is used to move a fluid under a flexible surface to create a dimple-shaped button. The team was able to increase the flow-rate of these pumps by 300% over traditional designs, while also integrating sensing for interactivity. This allowed the creation of a dynamic button that pops up as needed. The button design is fast and responsive. It’s able to readily change its position in an analog manner, both raising up and deflating below the base surface on command.

We don’t often cover weird goopy-looking projects around here, but maybe we should.

[Thanks to Keith Olson for the tip!]

22 thoughts on “Dynamic Buttons Are Weird Blobs You Can Press

      1. That was my first thought. If bubbles could be raised over a visual display, one could find buttons with a glance for initial target acquisition, then by feel maybe supported by some peripheral vision while central vision is focused back on the road.

        1. ooh nice idea. maybe even a rounded cubic shape whith a text or pictogram next to it to explain what it is for. and when you press it, a light turns on and the rounded cubic shape is a little less heigh. maybe even an audible click?

          and, and a round object with a rim you can rotate to set a specific setting in your car, like the volume of the music or to change the station you are listening to. airflow? temperature?

          the possibilities are endless.

  1. You don’t cover goop often, but 10.5 hours ago, you covered another electro-osmotic pump for feedback gloves. Which is kinda crazy because I’ve never heard of this stuff before.

  2. “The team was able to increase the flow-rate of these pumps by 300% over traditional designs” so, there’s probably a strong positive outcome from the work even if the bubble touch UI bursts.

  3. Did the “button keeps it’s distance from a laser rangefinder” make anyone else think of 3d printer bed leveling? I don’t have a 3d printer or time, so someone put a button under all four corners of their bed, put a rangefinder on the nozzle, and throw me a hat tip for giving you the idea to do all the hard work:p

    1. Really depends on just how far they are stretched and what material blend they are made of as to if they will die from use any quicker than conventional buttons I would think. As the core functionality is solid state, and the button itself has no seam to the outside I’d think in practice they may well out live conventional buttons – no spilling your beverage into them, no oils and dust build up inside etc.

      They are definitively going to eventually become waste, as nothing lasts forever, and I would like to see a lifespan analysis of such things. But my expectation would be (at least one any manufacturing defects are ironed out) that they will be pretty neutral compared to other human interfaces. Also have to ask if you can really call something so limited in the usual extra highly processed rarer material e-waste? It seems a bit of a misnomer here even though there is an electronic element, though whatever they may end up built into…

      1. Yeah , you are right , only time can tell, it is just watching that little bubble being so stretched it makes me think they won’t last and remember that conditions in real word can easily be harder than in lab, sweaty /greasy hands, dust, thermal cycles, sunlight, kids and pets :) so i dunno.

    1. I remember seeing prototypes of this published in a few papers a while back. It still feels like a feature looking for an application, but who knows where it will go. If they can increase the resolution, maybe it could be a dynamic braille interface or an unobtrusive tactile keyboard for touch screen phones. There are a potential myriad of uses, but no doubt they’ll have to wait until someone thinks of them.

      1. Nokia’s idea was to simulate keys on a flat screen for touch typing. It was a bit ahead of its time, but the idea is solid. And I think the patent is expired by now, so it’s also free for use by the next Great Thing.

  4. Interesting concept and great to see that the links directly lead to the publication. This could be great for building braille displays!

    The mechanism is electro osmosis pumping. Seems to be created when applying an electric field across a membrane. More voltage gives pressure, higher area (number of holes in electrode!) gives flow.

    Open questions
    – looks like they drive this thing with a constant voltage only? “Piezo driver” seems to be a few 10 mA voltage up to 300V (ouch, the breakdown might hurt). Good for research, electronics can be simplified.
    – the construction is a stack of foils and spacers. Am I missing something? The pumping layer is the magic, it seems to be a piece of borosilicate glass fiber filter with 0.25mm thickness (that does already have the holes, no drilling needed? Is this just regular chemistry filter paper? ). The other parts are off the shelf silicone foils, pcbs with cutouts, glue layers…
    – fluid is propylene carbonate, organic fluid, can substitute acetone in nail polish remover (not harmless, but also not crazy dangerous)

    – why not make a braille display out of this?
    – With pcb manufacturing you can get tiny hole sizes. A thin pcb as an electrode with many holes can be used. No need for laser drilling. The thinner this electrode pcb, the more flow you will get

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