Fujitsu Plans Touchscreens That Touch Back by 2015 with Haptic Tablets

By Steve Anderson February 25, 2014

While haptic technology—the idea that a touchscreen interface could provide tactile feedback sufficient to simulate whatever happens to be on the screen at the time—has somewhat fallen out of favor of late after some demonstrations that didn't quite pan out, new word out of the Mobile World Congress (MWC) show says that haptic technology could be poised for a comeback thanks to Fujitsu. The company is said to be planning a line of haptic-driven tablets for release in 2015, and the demonstrations are said to be proceeding nicely.

Fujitsu's new tablet system offers something of a different approach to the haptic feedback system, using an ultrasonic system that changes the amount of friction between the user's finger and the glass surface of the tablet. For example, for a slippery surface, the tablet would offer up a high-pressure layer of air via ultrasonic vibration to generate that smooth feeling. When a rough surface is called for, the tablet can then alternate between low-friction and high-friction areas, thus producing the approximation of a rough, intermittent texture.

The company put together a prototype version of this tablet for exhibition at MWC, and current reports suggest it's doing quite well indeed. The prototype allows for users to play a Japanese harp via a touchscreen display, as well as work a combination lock and touch an onscreen alligator. Since the demonstrations appear to be going well, it's a pretty safe bet that this technology will start arriving commercially in the targeted 2015 date.

There are indeed a host of applications for such technology. The obvious point to start with is in education, giving students access to such realistic video content that said students can essentially reach out and touch the item that's being discussed. That kind of realism is also potent in terms of gaming, as the controls can be augmented to provide a feel of what's being shown on screen. Add a haptic interface to, say, the Oculus Rift and a whole new level of immersion has been established that will likely prove popular with gamers.

Add a haptic interface to mobile devices like smartphones, meanwhile, and a lovely balance has been struck between the touchscreen and the physical keyboard. Just recently we heard about how new smartphones were being developed for the over-40 set whose  manual dexterity was starting to decline as a result of natural aging processes. Incorporating haptic feedback systems into smartphones, meanwhile, might well turn around some of the hesitation that older users have about using touchscreen devices like smartphones by providing some of the haptic feedback that would be generated from a physical keyboard.

Naturally, only time will tell how Fujitsu puts this into operation, or if any other company licenses the technology for use in other devices. But we may well be approaching an era in which simulated realities will be almost as real as the actual reality in which we live every day. That by itself has the potential to change things in a variety of ways, and seeing just what effects it has should be quite exciting in its own right.

Edited by Cassandra Tucker

Contributing TechZone360 Writer

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