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Input Devices Displays GUI Hardware Technology

Giving Touch-Screen Buttons Depth and Height With Pneumatics 146

Posted by timothy
from the wait-for-pneumatic-spam dept.
blee37 writes "Researchers at Carnegie Mellon demonstrate 'popping out' touch screen buttons to become physical buttons using pneumatics. The idea is to combine the dynamic reconfigurability of touch screen buttons with the tactile feedback of real buttons. The technology could be applied where tactile feedback is currently lacking, such as in car navigation systems, ATMs, or cell phones."
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Giving Touch-Screen Buttons Depth and Height With Pneumatics

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  • Oh no... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 24, 2009 @12:16PM (#30214840)

    This is a BAD idea for in-car SatNav/GPS.

    Anything that might make drivers think they can set/adjust something by reaching and groping when they should be concentrating on driving will cause accidents.

  • pistons! (Score:3, Funny)

    by cashX3r0 (1588469) on Tuesday November 24, 2009 @12:19PM (#30214902)
    so there are pistons within the cell phone of the future? batteries don't stand a chance. and then you have to oil your phone.
  • Er (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Quiet_Desperation (858215) on Tuesday November 24, 2009 @12:19PM (#30214918)
    Touch screens are nice because they can be programmed to display whatever controls you wish, but isn't the lack of moving parts another advantage? This seems like it would have MTBF issues.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by damburger (981828)
      Personally, I like having tactile feedback when i press buttons - and the lack of it has kept me away from a pure touchscreen device. I bought a HTC Dream instead of an iPhone for this reason (and the fact I'm not a massive Apple fanboy)
      • by Splab (574204)

        HTC Hero (pureish touchscreen) has tactile feedback when you press a button in the form of vibration, I find this very nice, gives me a clue about the phone registering my press and I can go on to the next one - it does however, not, help me find the button I want without looking.

      • by StikyPad (445176)

        What's your weight got to do with it?

        Ba-dum pshh.

      • I get that- I wouldn't want to type all day on a touch keyboard, for example- but I find audio clues, like a click, to be almost as good with a display you only need to deal with on occasion. It's a tradeoff.
      • by vakuona (788200)
        The tactile feedback is in you actually feeling the touch. You don't press, you touch. You don't need confirmation that you have touched hard enough. With buttons, you need feedback because you have to press them hard enough for the button press to register. So the feedback lets you know that you have pressed hard enough.
        • Tactile feedback isn't just about registering the press, it's also about registering when you're on the right button. With physical buttons, you can move your finger over them without pressing and find the right button without looking. You can do the same on a pressure-sensitive touchscreen that can produce raised or textured buttons. You can not with the iPhone.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by LOLLinux (1682094)
      What moving parts? Did you even bother to read the article? The screen just has a bunch of air pockets inside that react to positive or negative pressure changes within the screen.
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Garble Snarky (715674)
        "An air chamber behind the backing can be pressurized or depressurized using pneumatic technology, in this case fan-based pumps."

        Fans generally move.
        • by iluvcapra (782887)

          And are very noisy. Imagine having the a Dustbuster's vacuum pump behind your dashboard, attached to a hundred yards of very thin hose.

          I recall Tim Hunkin once building something like this with a rubber membrane covering a pattern of holes, and when you turned the vacuum on the membrane over the holes would depress making little ghost paw-prints in the rubber. It was noisy as hell.

    • It always depends on if it’s worth it. I think you can do pneumatics entierly without moving parts. Or if you have to, one single part. (I don't count the moving surface as a part.

      On the other hand, the buttons on all old phones and the buttons that you used to type your comment, are moving parts. You don't see them falling apart, do you?

      At least not until you replace them by something better anyway.

      So all in all, oh yeah, I think it is worth a ton to finally have a real touch-typable keyboard, that y

    • by cowscows (103644)

      Another thing that's nice about touchscreens is that the relative sizes of various buttons can change on the fly. The iPhone virtual keyboard dynamically resizes the area of different letters depending on what letter proceeded it. For example, if you just typed the letter 'c', the next letter you want is much more likely to be 'a' than 'z', so the 'a' button area becomes larger and the 'z' gets smaller. It doesn't change the visual size of the button on screen, because that would undoubtedly be quite annoyi

  • Why Not... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Monkeedude1212 (1560403) on Tuesday November 24, 2009 @12:22PM (#30214968) Journal

    Just make buttons that have a touch screen on them, thus you still have the scroll-ability and versatility of a touch screen, combined with the tacticle feedback of buttons when you want things to function like a button...

    Or am I completely missing the point?

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by cashX3r0 (1588469)
      missing the point. the object here is to have balloons in your phone that can fill up and deflate. this way when you let your baby girl play with your phone, she scratches at the 'button' until it pops.
      • by StikyPad (445176)

        I'd settle for a bland-looking case that doesn't draw any attention from my offspring whatsoever. Maybe something that says "Brussels sprouts" on the front.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by maxume (22995)

      The assembly of something with 15 buttons using the linked idea would probably be quite a lot cheaper than the assembly of 15 separate buttons, and the electronics to drive it would probably be simpler.

    • The idea is to make it possible to *change* the layout! Unless you have single-pixel buttons that are electronically raisable, you can’t do that with buttons.

      Imagine a big red button that says *NUKE* and a load of info displays and buttons on a surface that lies in the location of your keyboard, when playing your mech game. (Mechwarrior was famous for needing a mouse, a joystick *and* a keyboard to properly play it. And I *loved* it for the ability to look, move and shoot in 3 different directions! :D

      • by Firehed (942385)

        The idea is to make it possible to *change* the layout! Unless you have single-pixel buttons that are electronically raisable, you can’t do that with buttons.

        Well, that's probably what it'll need to become before it's really practical. With the fixed mask in this demo product, it means that you're limited to one or two configurations (maybe a raised virtual keyboard, sunken phone dial pad). Which is a nice start, but it doesn't really add much compared to a physical keyboard. I'd think that with sufficient miniaturization, you could get it down to a per-pixel level (or close enough to be as useful, maybe 2x2 or 3x3 px), at which point you're maintaining the adva

    • Just make buttons that have a touch screen on them, thus you still have the scroll-ability and versatility of a touch screen, combined with the tacticle feedback of buttons when you want things to function like a button...

      Heck, we had something like this when I was in the Navy. Buttons that actually contained something like a miniature slide projector* that could display multiple messages. I know these were first used in the 88/0 system which was first deployed in the late 60's, and they may even be older

    • by ubercam (1025540)

      Ever use a Blackberry Storm 9500/9530? It's a touch screen/giant button. There's one button behind the screen and you have to click it down to register a button press. It works ok, but apparently the Storm 2 (9520/9550) is much better in that regard. There are apparently 4 screen buttons, one in each corner and it allows multiple simultaneous button presses, making it much easier to type. The first iteration only allows one at a time. You can do multitouch for things like selecting text, and there used to b

    • Totally. " dynamic reconfigurability"
  • Visual feedback (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Enderandrew (866215) <enderandrew AT gmail DOT com> on Tuesday November 24, 2009 @12:23PM (#30214992) Homepage Journal

    I assumed I'd have issue with the touch keyboard on the iPhone. However, when I press a key, that key is highlighted and enlarges. I receive visual feedback of the key I pressed, even if I don't have physical feedback. Yes, it requires I look when I text, but I can't imagine many scenarios where I'd really ever text without looking just because there was some physical feedback.

    I'll take the lack of moving parts over the physical feedback, especially given how often I've dropped my phone.

    • Re:Visual feedback (Score:4, Informative)

      by fridaynightsmoke (1589903) on Tuesday November 24, 2009 @12:48PM (#30215368) Homepage
      Doesn't the iPhone vibrate slightly when it registers a 'touch'? My Nokia 5800 does that as standard, which is surprisingly useful as feedback. I would be surprised if the iPhone doesn't.
    • Yes, it requires I look when I text,

      “Getting-the-idea-FAIL”! :D

    • by StikyPad (445176)

      Hmm.. I still have issues with the touch keyboard, even after a year+. Especially annoying is typing in portrait mode, followed closely by top-row typing where I accidentally move the cursor (touch the text display area) instead of hitting the key I intended, followed next by inadvertent Space or Enter keypresses. Hitting the wrong key is something that happens even on a full-size keyboard, but it's pretty rare that I inadvertently do any of the above. If the iPhone had a model with a slide-out keyboard,

      • by zullnero (833754)
        My Pre has an awesome slideout keyboard AND all the gestures and virtual keyboard of the iPhone (if you even wanted to bother with that), and a lot more. You'd be surprised at the difference between emails that I send with my Pre, vs. emails that my coworkers have sent with their iPhones. What it really comes down to is that you're using your phone as a computer while multitasking, and getting something written down quickly equates to getting complete thoughts out. This means that you don't get coworkers
        • by StikyPad (445176)

          Yeah, my boss has a Pre and I have an iPhone. His selection was made based on the features you mention. Mine was made based on the larger application base, the existing SDK, and the large market for apps, should I ever get off my lazy ass and write one.

    • I can't imagine many scenarios where I'd really ever text without looking just because there was some physical feedback.

      Imagine there are other uses for touchscreens besides text messages. Like remote controls, in which you look to the television for visual feedback and the last thing you need is to have to look at the remote too...

  • Better idea (Score:2, Interesting)

    by amplt1337 (707922)

    Establish a grid of button surfaces, kind of like pixels, which can be dynamically re-grouped to merge them into larger buttons, and then put the display on that.

    So, imagine you had a keyboard with essentially no gaps between the keys, and a screen on top of them. You could make one button out of qwe, one button out of tgyh, etc., while displaying your graphics seamlessly.

    Or you could just do what ATMs have already been doing for ages, which is have blank buttons beside the screen and add the labels. But

    • Or you could just do what ATMs have already been doing for ages, which is have blank buttons beside the screen and add the labels. But nooo, gotta be all fancy-like...

      That could take up a lot more space, especially when it's a full keyboard being displayed. Not ideal for mobile devices.

      • by amplt1337 (707922)

        That could take up a lot more space, especially when it's a full keyboard being displayed. Not ideal for mobile devices.

        Well, right. Then again, typing is not ideal for mobile devices. Sure, you can jerry-rig solutions, but none of them work terribly well. (At least, neither Blackberries nor iPhones seem to have the problem well-solved). Probably the best answer for full-size keyboard stuff for mobile devices is some kind of neutral-hand-position bimanual chording keyboard, but that's expensive and intimidating, and requires a lot of learning on the user's part.

  • Re-post? (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward

    I could swear I read about this on /. several months ago... at the very least, this story is OLD. Looks like some blogger just rehashed it from back in April (link is not /., obviously).

    http://www.engadget.com/2009/04/28/carnegie-mellon-morphs-pop-up-buttons-onto-multi-touch-display

  • by courteaudotbiz (1191083) on Tuesday November 24, 2009 @12:26PM (#30215042) Homepage
    And what would be the actual pricetag of such a device? I understand that we use more and more electronics to simplify the mechanics behind our devices. Now, with a pump, you need to physically inject air under the screen, so you have moving parts, and they are usually costly... besides, what would be the reliability of such a thing? and could you get a "flat" screen?
    • And what would be the actual pricetag of such a device? I understand that we use more and more electronics to simplify the mechanics behind our devices. Now, with a pump, you need to physically inject air under the screen, so you have moving parts, and they are usually costly... besides, what would be the reliability of such a thing? and could you get a "flat" screen?

      Instead of air, Ferrofluids might be a solution.

  • by fridaynightsmoke (1589903) on Tuesday November 24, 2009 @12:28PM (#30215074) Homepage

    I am left thinking "so what?". All they did was PROJECT graphics onto an inflatable surface, and used a camera and image recognition to determine which 'button' was being pressed.

    I think it's a bit of a stretch to describe this as a 'touch screen'; the image is projected onto the surface (which could be true for ANY surface) and the surface itself does NOT detect touches. There is also no tactile feedback whatsoever. I might as well get one of those laser projection keyboards, set it up on the bonnet of my car and announce that I've made a "self-propelling air-conditioned touchscreen that seats four".

  • An unavoidable limitation is that the mask itself is static, meaning that new shapes cannot be created dynamically. The technology only allows controlling whether the shapes pop in, pop out, or remain flat.

    That makes it useless for all but a few uncommon use cases. But it may be the beginning of something, maybe another team will come up on a way to create a programmable mask.

  • Whack-a-mole! (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Whack-a-mole! Now with a digital display and tactile feedback! imagine the possibilities!

  • Why? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Weren't touch-screens the latest rage because.. you didn't have to.. push... buttons?

    • by HeyBob! (111243)

      Nope - they're great because they can be ANY array of buttons, plus whatever else you want to display

    • Weren't touch-screens the latest rage because.. you didn't have to.. push... buttons?

      No. They're the 'latest rage' because you can have a simplified and optimized interface that changes based on the application.

      Honestly dude, I'm not sure why you even asked that. "This button push is too much!" Seriously, have you not seen the progression of cell phones in the last 5 years?

  • by Abcd1234 (188840) on Tuesday November 24, 2009 @12:38PM (#30215218) Homepage

    I thought people were already trying to do this sort of thing using electroactive polymers [wikipedia.org]. Certainly there seems to be a couple [freepatentsonline.com] patents [patentstorm.us] on the idea [faqs.org], not to mention someone who thinks the technology could be used to make braille-capable touchscreens [popsci.com].

    • Another idea would be to use quartz, or some other peizoelectric material to provide the feedback.
  • killer app (Score:5, Funny)

    by jjeffries (17675) on Tuesday November 24, 2009 @12:38PM (#30215226)
    The killer app for this will of course be a Timex Sinclair 1000 emulator.
  • or are you just happy to see me?
  • by Shivetya (243324) on Tuesday November 24, 2009 @12:40PM (#30215256) Homepage Journal

    and their exploding work stations.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Tablizer (95088)

      This new technology has something that even sparking Trek battles don't have: panels that actually punch you in the face.

      • Ok, if I can design an app that literally punches out a user when they do something stupid?

        It has my vote.

        I'd never buy one, of course ;)

    • by mcgrew (92797) *

      Actually, the "exploding work stations" comes from computers even more primitive than the real ones in the 1960s. Vacuum tubes consume large amounts of power (a filimant has to be heated, much like an incandescant light bulb), and if you have a physical short (like the first computer bug that was actually a moth that shorted out some wires) you often have a "POP!" and some smoke.

  • by benmonty (1682150)
    Immersion Corporation is a small technology company that is also providing haptic (touch) feedback for a variety of electronics, including touch screens. They have the technology to make a flat button on a touch screen feel like it is a 3-dimensional button being depressed and it isn't confined to a single configuration. Lg, Samsung, and Nokia already license Immersion's technology and mobile phones with touch feedback are already being sold in Asia. In my opinion, this latex button is a good idea but it wo
  • I periodically read about demos of this technology using pneumatics, but it seems like a very limiting way to do it. The article says:

    all the buttons must popped in or out at once...new shapes cannot be created dynamically

    For this to ever become in general use, we need something pixel-addressable. Seems like something that is piezoelectric or electrostatic is more likely to be successful that pneumatics.

    I like the question posed in the article:

    When do you think pneumatic technology like this will turn the flat touch screen buttons on our phones into physical buttons?
    1. 2 years
    2. 5 years
    3. 10+ years
    4. Never

    Probably never. Had they asked "when will haptic technology turn the flat touch screen buttons..." instead of asking about the specific technology, t

  • instead of the cell phone filling the buttons with air, the owner of the phone should have to blow his cell phone up to use it. with a breathalyzer installed in the cell phone, the phone would be disabled from making calls, which would end the "i'm drunk so i'm calling my ex" phenomenon.
  • Piezoelectric layer (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Wouldn't it be easier to just add a piezoelectric layer to the screen and add haptic feedback that way?

    • by macraig (621737)

      Shocking people who use their touchscreen in the car might be a good feature, if that means they only mess with it when they really must and spend more time devoted to actual driving!

  • I feel like there is some sort of pertinent pizza-based analogy here... something about how when the crust has larger bubbles, it's a more rich and textural experience... I'm not sure though, as pizza-based analogies aren't really my expertise...
  • This reminds me of that bizarre "Transformer blob" video that was reported here some time ago. I dunno if I want my touchscreens morphing on me when I'm not looking!

  • by selven (1556643)

    This would be extremely effective in making touchscreen interfaces usable for the blind.

  • i cant stand the touchscreen interface...its a relic that persists because we are too lazy or stupid to grasp abstract concepts presented to us in the start of the 21st century. We still want to shake, poke, bump, and twist our interfaces to make them do what we want. Its just one more way to dumb-down information and technology as opposed to addressing the real issue: education.
    • Ok - so what are you proposing instead? I have a touchscreen, and I'm not really sure how else you'd delineate where to "touch" it to make things work.

      Instead of a number pad with finger sized 'buttons' you would have... what, exactly? Voice recognition? Tilt? Gestures?

      I agree the "3D" look and the "glossy" look are a bit annoying, but I'm not sure i fully understand the concept of "no buttons".

  • by jeffb (2.718) (1189693) on Tuesday November 24, 2009 @01:26PM (#30215878)

    Okay, maybe not octopus skin -- but in it, we have an existence proof for a surface that can display high-bandwidth color changes and slower, but quite elaborate, texture changes. With all the progress being made with microfluidics and chip-scale effectors, why on Earth would anyone pursue a chugging, hissing, thermodynamically-disadvantaged pneumatic system for this?

    • by evanbd (210358)

      Thermodynamically disadvantaged? Huh? We're talking about what, 1-2 psi to inflate the buttons? At that pressure rise, the adiabatic temp increase is small (order of 10 degrees C). The majority of the work being done goes into P*V, just like it would if you replaced the air with a liquid.

      I would assume that either way, the hard part is the micro-pump that can deliver useful pressures. Or maybe that's not that hard after all; I don't really follow the field.

  • ...and discarded it because the screen itself is not flexible enough for serious dynamics (e.g. the form that your keyboard keys have), or if you use a second surface above it that you fill with the air, you get optical distortions.

    My current concept is much cooler: Put pins in every spot between 4 pixels (on the corners), and use small magnetic actuators (like speakers) behind the screen, to drive the pins up and down. then attach a flexible foil on the top of the pins. now you can create very nice, fast a

  • ... the obligatory Rule 34 implementation. Well, maybe not just see it ......
  • I was really hoping this was going to be a fully programmable system that would allow a programmer to dynamically elevate arbitrary parts of the screen, but it seems to be completely static, so I don't really see the point. Ultimately, what I think people would want for devices like an iPhone would be to have fully dynamic "buttons" that are programmed using the windowing/widget API so that you maintain the application-specific dynamic UI that makes devices like the iPhone awesome while adding the tactile
  • We've seen this story before. Even has some of the same pictures. http://hardware.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=09/04/29/1516231 [slashdot.org]

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