Improved touch screens could help you “feel”


The next time you buy a new sofa, you may never have to leave the old one to get a feel for the texture of the new material.

Dr. Cynthia Hipwell, Oscar S. Wyatt Jr. ’45 Chair II Professor at the J. Mike Walker ’66 Department of Mechanical Engineering at Texas A&M University, leads a team working to better define how the finger interacts with a device with the the hope of helping in the further development of technology that goes beyond sensing and responding to your touch.

The team’s research was recently published and made the cover of the journal Advanced materials.

The ultimate goal of improving this human-machine interface is to give touch devices the ability to provide users with a richer touch experience by endowing technology with the ability to mimic the feel of physical objects. Hipwell shared examples of potential implementations ranging from a more immersive VR platform to touchscreen display interfaces like those of a motor vehicle dashboard and a virtual shopping experience that would allow the user to feel the texture of the materials before purchasing them.

“It could let you feel textures, buttons, slides, and buttons on the screen,” Hipwell said. “It can be used for interactive touch screens, but a holy grail would definitely be to be able to add a touch in shopping so that you can feel the texture of fabrics and other products while you shop online.”

Hipwell explained that essentially “touch” in today’s touchscreen technology benefits the screen more than the user. With the emergence and refinement of increasingly sophisticated haptic technology, this relationship between user and device may become more reciprocal.

She added that adding touch as a sensory input would ultimately enrich virtual environments and ease the communication burden currently carried by audio and visual.

“When we look at virtual experiences, they’re mostly audio and visual right now and we can get audio and visual overload,” Hipwell said. “Being able to bring touch into the human-machine interface can bring a lot more capability, a lot more realism, and it can reduce that overhead. Haptic effects can be used to get your attention in order to render something more. easy to find or do using lower cognitive load. “

Hipwell and his team approach the research by examining the multiphysics – coupled processes or systems involving multiple physical fields occurring at the same time – of the interface between the user’s finger and the device. This interface is incredibly complex and changes with different users and environmental conditions.

“We are looking at electrowetting effects (forces resulting from an applied electric field), electrostatic effects, changes in finger properties, material properties and device surface geometry, contact mechanics , fluid movement, charge transport – really, everything that happens in the interface to understand how the device can be designed to be more reliable and perform better, ”Hipwell said.“ Ultimately our the goal is to create predictive models rather than allowing a designer to create devices with maximum haptic effect and minimum sensitivity to user and environmental variations. “

As research and development of the technology continues to advance, Hipwell said it predicts that consumers will begin to see the first elements implemented in common devices in the next few years, with some products already in the pipeline. development.

“I think the first items will definitely be in the next five years,” Hipwell said. “Then it’s just a matter of maturing the technology and determining how advanced, realistic and widespread it is.”

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