Microsoft pioneers tactile display technology

Possibly leapfrogging today's touch-screen technologies, Microsoft has figured out a way to make the computer displays themselves change in shape under a person's touch.

Microsoft filed an application last week with the U.S. patent office for a tactile display technology it calls a "Light-Induced Shape-Memory Polymer Display Screen."

Such a display could generate small ridges and textures on its surface that could work as navigation guides. For instance, the display could provide a virtual keyboard that could give users the feel of an actual keyboard, the patent application states.

To make this happen, the display itself would contain a "topography-changing layer" comprised of something called shape-memory polymers, which change shape depending on the ultraviolet light signal received. The system would require a topography-changing engine to supply the light signals.

Erez Kikin-Gil, a Microsoft senior user experience designer, is listed as inventor of the technology.

Presumably, the technology could be used as part of the Microsoft Surface systems, which are table-sized computers with large touchscreens that the company markets for interactive display duties.

Industry observers have noted that the technology, at least in theory, would also be feasible on smaller devices.

"There would be no more reason for mobile keypads -- they would simply be emulated when necessary," said Patrick Baudisch, a University of Potsdam in Germany display interaction expert, in an interview with New Scientist magazine.

Microsoft did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the technology.

Joab Jackson covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Joab on Twitter at @Joab_Jackson. Joab's e-mail address is Joab_Jackson@idg.com

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