Feel image texture with IIT-M’s new touchscreen technology

Called ‘iTad,’ for interactive touch active display, it’s the next generation in touch display technology.
Representative image
Representative image

CHENNAI: Researchers of IIT Madras have developed a new touchscreen display technology through which a user can feel the textures of images as the finger moves across the touch surface. Existing touchscreens can only sense your location of finger touch.

Called ‘iTad,’ for interactive touch active display, it’s the next generation in touch display technology. Researchers can create different textures such as crisp edges, switches and rich textures that range from smooth to gritty. A new level of interaction comes alive on smooth physical surfaces, a release from IIT Madras on Monday said.

There are no moving parts in iTad. Instead, an in-built multi-touch sensor detects the movement of the finger and surface friction is adjusted via software. By controlling electric fields via a physical phenomenon known as ‘electroadhesion’, the software modulates friction locally as fingers travel across a smooth plane.

The research was led by Prof M Manivannan, CoE on Virtual Reality and Haptics, department of applied mechanics, IIT-M. Merkel Haptics, a start-up incubated at the IIT Madras Research Park, has been working with Touchlab researchers to take the technology forward. “This is the era of iTad. The technology can take online shopping experience to the next level. We can touch and feel things before we buy from e-commerce platforms,” said Manivannan.

Elaborating on the current status of ‘iTad’ and a timeline for hitting market with possible application in the real world, Dr PV Padmapriya, CEO, Merkel Haptics, said the prototype from the Touchlab can be made into product in a year. “Our aim is to make a small device, similar to a computer mouse, on everyone’s desk to add to the experience. We’ve been field testing and providing feedback to IIT M researchers on improving the functionality of the technology,” she said.

The key applications of ‘iTad’ include automotive, consumer electronics, and digital signage, home automation, medical, industrial and gaming, aid for the visually challenged, among others. Manivannan said, “Currently, computer touchscreens can only sense your position of your fingers on the screen but offers no feedback. When we add feedback, the interaction with computers becomes experiential. iTad is unlike anything else on the market because it combines multi-touch sensing with haptics on the same layer.”

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