Talk to the hand: This new touchscreen technology touches you back

Researchers from the University of Sussex are developing new touchscreen technology that may change how you interact with your smartphone and other smart devices. Unlike the current generation of devices that embed their haptic feedback into the screen, the University of Sussex technology screen touches you back when you are interacting with it.

The idea behind this technology is an unusual one — instead of the screen providing haptic feedback, the scientists have designed a method that allows you to feel your screen interactions in the palm of your hand.

This basic concept is not a new one, with researchers providing haptic feedback using pins, vibrations, and other technology that touches the skin and restricts movement. The University of Sussex team, however, has created a system that does away with hardware that limits the use of the hand and instead uses ultrasound transmitters on the outer side of your hand to send tactile sensations to the palm of your hand.

Related: Bosch’s next-gen touchscreen uses haptic feedback to generate the feel of real buttons

Presented at the IEEE Haptics Symposium in Philadelphia, the team is using a method called acoustic time-reversal processing that uses ultrasound transmitters to send ultrasound waves through the hands. As the ultrasound waves travel, they become more focused, producing a tactile sensation in the user’s palm. The researchers developed a proof of concept device and showed experimentally how the ultrasound transmitters can be used to create focused energy on the hand that can be felt under the skin.

Research lead and University of Sussex professor Sriram said the inspiration for this concept is the boom in wearables, which provide valuable functions to the wearer, but have screens that are too small to be really useful. “If you imagine you are on your bike and want to change the volume control on your smartwatch, the interaction space on the watch is very small. So companies are looking at how to extend this space to the hand of the user,” said Subramanian. “What we offer people is the ability to feel their actions when they are interacting with the hand.”

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