Shape-Shifting Touch Screen Is on the Horizon

Microsoft Corp. claims it has invented a way to make a computer display change its shape under a person's fingertips.

The company applied last month for a U.S. patent for a tactile touch-screen technology that 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 example, it could produce a virtual keyboard that would feel like a real keyboard, according to the patent application.

To do that, the display would contain a "topography-changing layer" made up of "shape-memory polymers" that would change shape in response to the ultraviolet light signals received.

The technology is meant to be used in the table-size Microsoft Surface, but in theory, it could also be used in mobile devices.

With the new screens, "there would be no more reason for mobile keypads -- they would simply be emulated when necessary," said Patrick Baudisch, a display interaction expert at Germany's University of Potsdam, in an interview with New Scientist magazine.

This version of this story was originally published in Computerworld's print edition. It was adapted from an article that appeared earlier on

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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