Just as Columbus proved the world wasn't flat, California-based Tactus Technology is hoping to prove the same is true for the world of touchscreens. The flat touchcreen will soon be a thing of the past, and in its place, according to the company, will be what it calls a "Tactile Layer," a next-generation haptic user interface with transparent physical buttons that rise up from a touchscreen surface.
With the buttons enabled, users can push and type or rest their fingers as they would with any physical button or keyboard. When the buttons are disabled, they recede into the screen, becoming invisible and leaving a smooth, seamless flat touchscreen with maximum viewing area, said Nate Saal, VP of business development for Tactus Technology
Several industries, including retail, food, automotive, ATM, gaming and health care, are embracing touchscreens to improve their customers' experiences, but there is a major downfall: lack of haptic feedback, Saal said.
"Current haptic technologies fall short in assisting users in properly locating their fingers on the screen or keyboard, because of the inherently flat nature of touchscreens. Without proper orientation, mistakes will be high," he said. "Given how fast touchscreens are being integrated into handheld devices ... it is vital to have a tactile solution that helps users interact with them much more naturally, comfortably and safely."
How it works
The Tactile Layer panel is a flat, transparent, dynamic surface that adds no extra thickness to the standard touchscreen display since it replaces a layer of the already existing display stack. Tactus allows manufacturers to create devices with entirely new ergonomics and form factors, since the screen and the keyboard are now combined.
When triggered, the thin layer deforms and buttons or shapes of a specific height, size and firmness appear on the surface of the screen. Users can feel, press down and interact with these physical buttons just like they would keys on a keyboard. The buttons recede into the surface and become invisible when they are no longer needed.
Touch-based interfaces have proven to be a popular aspect of self-service, and the Tactile Layer is just an example of another innovative technology making the underlying touch experience just that much better, said Bob Mitton, director of marketing at Touch Revolution, a multitouch technology company that is partnering with Tactus to help "bring touch experience to a wide range of markets." "Tactus has a very innovative product, and we want to provide them with a platform that helps them deliver a better touch experience. We see this as one of a number of innovative technologies that make touch even more compelling."
Tactus and Touch recently created a prototype, integrating the Tactile Layer into Touch's Fusion 7 touch display. The companies demonstrated it publicly for the first time last week in Boston at the Society for Information Display's I-Zone.
"There was a lot of excitement. People were commenting that this is what they wanted as part of their interface," Saal said. "There was a lot of interest from retailers, as well as device manufacturers in mobile, tablet, automotive, medical and more."
The next step
Last year, the company closed $6 million in Series A funding and will make the technology available to OEMs by the second half of 2013. Cost info is not yet available, Saal said, but OEMs looking for the complete touch display will go through Touch Revolution. Those looking to add the Tactile Layer to their own solutions will buy directly from Tactus.
Also, the company may eventually offer after-market capabilities, but it's not the current focus, Saal said.
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