BOFFINS WORKING FOR Microsoft have patented a "tactile" touchscreen that can convince users they are actually touching the ridges, bumps and textures of a displayed image.
The technique involves producing a real texture using pixel-sized shape-memory plastic cells that can be ordered to protrude from the surface on command.
The Vole's named inventor, Erez Kikin-Gil at the firm's Redmond campus in Washington state, says in the patent that the idea is aimed at large table-sized computing displays such as the company's Surface
At the moment there do not appear to be plans to put the technology into a tablet.
A projector built into the Surface displays a computer image onto the table top from below. As the user touches it, infrared reflections from their fingertips are detected by cameras beneath the table and used to pinpoint the position of the finger and lend touchscreen capability.
Kikin-Gil suggests that the display should be made out of a light-induced shape-memory polymer which becomes hard and protruding when one wavelength of ultraviolet light is transmitted at a pixel, and soft when another wavelength hits it.
He thinks that by modulating these wavelengths, texture can be created.
It is not clear how far down the line the Vole is with this technology or what use it may be. According to New Scientist, Microsoft's tactile touchscreen technology could make keypads obsolete. Patrick Baudisch, a display interaction expert at the University of Potsdam in Germany said that if the Vole has managed to do what it says in the patent then it has created the "holy grail" of text entry. The technology would enable touch typing at much faster speeds than on touchscreens today, he said. µ