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Touchscreens That Touch Back

Touchscreens may have the virtue of replacing rows of buttons, but pushing your finger on a smooth piece of glass lacks the tactile satisfaction of operating an honest-to-goodness button or knob.

Touchscreens may have the virtue of replacing rows of buttons, but pushing your finger on a smooth piece of glass lacks the tactile satisfaction of operating an honest-to-goodness button or knob. Until now. Engineers at Immersion Corp., (San Jose, CA; www.immersion.com) who developed the tactile feedback control knob for the infamous BMW iDrive (see: Touch and Go), have come up with a screen the lets you know when you touch it. The device—still a prototype—puts a transparent cover layer on a standard touchscreen. The layer is attached to custom-designed actuators. When an on-screen selection is pressed the actuators move the cover layer rapidly from side to side to create the physical sensation of pressing a real button. Joseph DiNucci, senior vice president at Immersion, says that his company began developing the screen after being told by automakers that they could sell a lot more touchscreen-based systems if the devices were more interactive. If that’s so then increased sales should more than offset the modest 10-15% cost increase DiNucci estimates the modifications add to the price of a conventional touchscreen unit.—KEW