Tactus Technology thinks it has the perfect solution for smartphone users who want a touchscreen device, but don’t want to have to sacrifice the tactile feedback and accuracy advantages that come with a physical keyboard. Demoed at Society for Information Display’s Display Week 2012 and reported by The Verge, this microfluidic prototype display features a keyboard that can rise out of the panel when a user needs it and disappear once typing is no longer necessary.
The touchscreen doesn’t appear any different from a regular one at first, but underneath it are channels that store a small amount of fluid. When the user wants to use the keyboard, the fluid is then pumped through the channels and raises a membrane above the touchscreen to form the keys.
Because of current technological restrictions, the channels have to be built already into the hardware so that they can only raise and create a single formation — in this case, a keyboard. Eventually, CEO and co-founder of Tactus Technology Craig Ciesla wants to fulfill his goal of using microfluidics to create physical shapes above the surface of the display that could be different according to how an app wants to utilize the technology.
One benefit a microfluidic keyboard has over a standard physical keyboard is its flexibility to conform to the individual user’s personal preferences. “You can change the pressure, you can change the resistance, and allow people to customize the feel, something you can’t do on a physical keyboard with physical buttons,” said vice president of business development Nate Saal. “The end user gets to choose what feel they like.”
It’s been four years since Tactus started developing the technology. It’s still in alpha stages, but so far it seems they’ve nailed customization and power consumption; right now it only drains up to two percent of the battery for the entire day. This is still just a prototype and the company still has a long way to go before it hits the market, however.