IIT Madras Researchers Develop New Generation of Touchscreen Technology that lets user feel the Texture of Images

 Indian Institute of Technology Madras Researchers have developed a new touchscreen display technology through which a user can feel the textures from images as the finger moves across the touch surface. Existing touchscreens can only sense your location of finger touch.

Called ‘iTad,’ for interactive Touch active display, it is the next generation in Touch Display technology. Through the use of software, the researchers can create different textures such as crisp edges, switches and rich textures that range from smooth to gritty. A new level of interaction comes alive on smooth physical surfaces.

There are no moving parts in iTad. Instead, an in-built multi-touch sensor detects the movement of the finger and surface friction is adjusted via software. By controlling electric fields via a physical phenomenon known as ‘electroadhesion,’ the software modulates friction locally as 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 Haptics, a start-up incubated at the IIT Madras Research Park, has been working with the Touchlab researchers to take the technology forward.

Highlighting the impact this technology could have on Electronic Appliances, Prof. M. Manivannan, Department of Applied Mechanics, IIT Madras, “This is the era of iTad. The technology can take online shopping experience to the next level. We can touch and feel things before we buy from e-commerce platforms. Around 30 per cent of returns to the online shopping are due to the mismatch of user experience, their expectation is different by looking at the images online.”

Elaborating on the current status of ‘iTad’ and a timeline for hitting market with possible application in the real world, Dr. P.V. Padmapriya, CEO, Merkel Haptics, said, “The prototype from the Touchlab can be made into product in an year’s time. 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

Ø  Automotive, Consumer Electronics, and Digital Signage

Ø  Home automation, medical, industrial and gaming,

Ø  Aid for visually challenged, among other areas 

Explaining how this ‘iTad’ differs from contemporary technologies, Prof. M. Manivannan said “Currently computer touchscreens can only sense your 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 on 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 is bilateral and has two aspects rather than just one. iTad touch-enabled surfaces can both receive (sensing the finger position) touch input and provide touch feedback.

Until now, the touch feedback has been limited to vibrations such as the one in mobile phones, which are 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 harmonized 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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