New generation touchscreen technology that lets you feel the texture of images
A researcher demonstrating the product by wearing a VR Headset

Guwahati: Researchers at the Indian Institute of Technology Madras have developed a new touchscreen display technology through which a user can feel the texture of images as the finger slides across the touch screen surface. 

Existing touchscreens can only sense the location of a touch.

Called ‘iTad,’ for interactive touch active display, it is the next generation in touch display technology. 

Using the software, researchers can create different textures such as crisp edges and rich textures that range from smooth to gritty. This brings to life a new level of interaction on smooth physical surfaces.

There are no moving parts in iTad. Instead, a built-in multi-touch sensor detects the movement of the finger and adjusts the surface friction using software. By controlling electric fields via a physical phenomenon known as ‘electroadhesion’, the software modulates friction locally as the user’s fingers travel across a smooth plane.

The research was led by Prof. M. ManivannanCoE on Virtual Reality and Haptics, Department of Applied Mechanics, IIT-Madras.

 Merkel Hapticsa start-up incubated at the IIT-Madras Research Park, it has been working with the researchers to take the technology forward.

Highlighting the impact this technology could have on electronic appliances, Prof M Manivannan of the department of applied mechanics at IIT-Madras said, “This is the era of iTad. This technology can take the online shopping experience to the next level. We can touch and feel products before buying from e-commerce platforms. Around 30 per cent of returns to online shopping are due to the mismatch of user experience. Their experience is different by looking at the images online.”

PV Padmapriya, the CEO of Merkel Haptics, said, “The prototype from Touchlab can be made into a product in a year. Our aim is to make a small device, similar to a computer mouse, on everyone’s desk to add to the experience. We have been field testing and providing valuable feedback to the researchers at IIT-Madras on improving the functionality of the technology.”

The key applications of ‘iTad’ include:

  •  Automotive, consumer electronics, and digital signage
  • Home automation, medical, industrial and gaming
  • Aid for visually-challenged  

Explaining how ‘iTad’ differs from contemporary technologies, Manivannan said, “Currently computer touchscreens can only sense the position of your fingers on the screen but offers no feedback. When we add feedback, the interaction with computers becomes experiential. iTad is unlike anything else in the market today because it combines multi-touch sensing with haptics on the same layer.”

The sensation of touch, or haptics, is unique among the senses in that it has bilateral aspects rather than just one. iTad touch-enabled surfaces can both receive (sensing finger position) touch input and provide touch feedback.

Until now, touch feedback has been limited to vibrations such as the one in mobile phones, which is called ‘vibrotactile.’ A resonating voice coil is used for providing the smartphone’s familiar buzz of alerts and confirmations.

There are no moving pieces in surface haptics as iTad is a fully integrated solution with a single controller and solid-state actuator.

Textures and haptic effects, particularly big and curved displays, can be harmonised across size, shape and surface. iTad is a versatile solution with diverse applications. Every texture effect created through iTad can be felt with the swipe of a finger.

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