Thursday, 07 June 2012 11:03
June 7, 2012
Since the rise of texting in the 1990s, people have been complaining about how hard it can be to punch out messages on their phones. But BYTE reports one company, Tactus Technology, hopes to provide a solution that offers the best of all worlds through the new field of microfluidics.
Typing without all the parts
The problem started with the small keys that required people to learn what amounts to a new texting language, but the issue has only gotten worse in the past few years since the Apple ditched keypads entirely for the iPhone. With the iPad and other tablets starting to replace computers in some uses, anyone who had trouble with texting is likely just shaking their head in defeat.
Many phone makers have tried to circumvent the problem by incorporating full keypads along with touch screens, but this strategy always comes at a price. If the phone splits the front face, then it offers a much smaller screen at a time when people are playing more games and watching more videos on the go. If it uses a slide-out keyboard, then the phone will need to be that much larger to accommodate all the extra parts.
Mixing fluids and phones
The solution to the problem presented by the iPod became pretty clear very quickly. Back in 2007 when the iPhone first came out, Craig Ciesla, the chief executive officer of Tactus, ultimately decided to stick with his older Blackberry based entirely on the fact it offers a full keyboard. Fast Company reports that touchscreen keyboards generally restrict typing speeds to around 25 words per minute, while even slower typers can more than double that on a computer.
"I was thinking about how I could do without my Blackberry and keyboard, and at that moment I thought this microfluidic technology could solve the problem and be the solution," Ciesla told BYTE.
After some extensive engineering research and development, Tactus' designed a new technology that uses microfluidics, the manipulation of fluids in small spaces, to actually create physical buttons on the face of a touchscreen phone. The system would in no way limit the potential touchscreen applications, but suddenly programmers could opt to create anything from a full QWERTY keyboard to controls for a game, or any other shape they might find useful.
The system would have minimal implications for the devices they were used in as well. Touchscreens comprise three layers: the screen itself, the touch sensors and the cover lens. Tactus' technology simply replaces the cover lens, requiring only the addition of a small device to control the microfluidics systems.
Wide possibilities for touchpads
There are already a diverse array of potential applications for touchscreens in the modern world, but these devices still pose two important problems.
First, touchscreens require some kind of confirmation when an action has been completed. Fast Company notes most devices solve this problem through the use of sound cues, but this requires a system aside from just the touchscreen.
Second, this technology still provides little sense of where exactly a user's fingers are in relation to buttons and other triggers. Very little can help to solve this problem.
But Tactus' new technology allows phones, tablets or other screens to easily provide both orientation and confirmation. This could open up potential uses in places where touchscreens have so far been impractical.
"Having this technology in my pocket or in my bag is cool, but what if it was also on the side of a building? What happens if the entire glass facade of a building is one giant touchscreen that can physically change?" Brian Crooks, associate creative director at And Partners, noted to Fast Company. "Designers will definitely have a lot of fun investigating and playing with all the possibilities this brings to the table."