Shape Shifting TouchScreens

Someone once asked me why Starbucks makes such an elaborate ritual out of ordering coffee. My sarcastic answer was; “So people who don’t have much to do, can feel like they accomplish something substantial every morning.. just by ordering coffee!”.

But putting all sarcasm aside for a moment:  precision does have its pleasures.

My all time favorite keyboard is the early IBM electronic keyboard. Nothing enhances the feeling of precision keyboarding like the patented mechanical ‘buckling springs’ used in these keyboards.

The name refers to the fact that the coil spring tensed between the keycap and a pivoting hammer.. buckles at a certain point in its downward traverse, providing auditory and tactile feedback to the keyboard operator

In other words, as the characters flow to your fingertips, you are given an overwhelming sensation that you are quite literally, and metaphorically.. ‘crushing it’.


(Above) The IBM ‘buckling spring’ patent diagram and keyboard, and (below) the new microfluidic touchscreen from Tactus Technology.  A panel replaces the glass top layer of an iPhone 3. The user must depress a button to type a number.

These subtleties are not lost on Tactus Technology, a start up in Fremont, California, that is prototyping touch-screen hardware with buttons that emerge when you need the feel of a physical keyboard, and then disappear when you don’t.

Their approach, in which a fluid-filled plastic panel and cylindrical fluid reservoir replace the usual top layer of glass, is among a crop of emerging technologies aimed at adding tactile feedback to make screens feel like old-fashioned keyboards.

Personally, this shape-shifting technology can’t get here soon enough for me. Back to the Future!

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Sources –  MIT Technology Review

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