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Indian Researchers Explore the Future of Touchscreen Display Tech


Researchers at the Indian Institute of Technology Madras (IIT-Madras) have developed a new touchscreen display technology called iTad. It allows users to feel textures from images as their finger moves across the screen. Existing touchscreens can only sense the location of finger touch.

The interactive touch-active display is the next generation of touch display technology. Using the software, the researchers can create different textures that range from smooth to gritty, a statement from IIT-Madras explained. An in-built multi-touch sensor detects the movement of the finger and surface friction is adjusted via the software. By controlling electric fields through a physical phenomenon known as electroadhesion, the software modulates friction locally as fingers travel across a smooth plane.

The research was led by Professor Manivannan from IIT-Madras’ Department of Applied Mechanics. Highlighting the impact this technology could have on electronic appliances, Manivannan, explained that the technology will take the online shopping experience to the next level. “We can touch and feel things before we buy from e-commerce platforms. Around 30% of returns to online shopping are due to the mismatch of user experience, their expectation is different by looking at the images online,” he said. Other applications include:

  • Automotive, consumer electronics, and digital signage
  • Home automation, medical, industrial, and gaming
  • Aid for the visually challenged

An expert claimed the technology would be made into a product in a year’s time. The aim is to make a small device, like a computer mouse, on everyone’s desk to add to the experience. The team has been field testing and providing valuable feedback to the researchers at IIT-Madras on improving the functionality of the technology.

Manivannan stated that current computer touchscreens can only sense the position of fingers on the screen but offer no feedback. When feedback is added, the interaction with computers becomes experiential. “iTad is unlike anything else on the market today because it combines multi-touch sensing with haptics on the same layer,” he added.

The sensation of touch, or haptics, is unique among the senses in that it is bilateral and has two aspects rather than just one. iTad touch-enabled surfaces can both receive (sensing the finger position) touch input and provide touch feedback. Until now, touch feedback has been limited to vibrations such as the one in mobile phones, which are called vibrotactile. A resonating voice coil is used for providing the smartphone’s familiar buzz of alerts and confirmations. There are no moving pieces in surface haptics as iTad is a fully integrated solution with a single controller and solid-state actuator.

Textures and haptic effects, particularly big and curved displays, can be harmonised across size, shape, and surface. iTad is a versatile solution with diverse applications. Every texture effect created through iTad can be felt with the swipe of a finger, the statement said.

The Indian Institute of Technology Madras is a public technical university located in Chennai, Tamil Nadu. It is known both nationally and internationally for excellence in technical education, basic and applied research, innovation, entrepreneurship, and industrial consultancy.

The institute is at the forefront of cutting-edge development. Recently, it launched AskIITM – one of several initiatives it has developed focusing on offering online guidance and tools for students looking to apply to IIT-Madras. They can look at the existing questions on the site or ask their own questions.

It also made headlines for Smartboxer, an analytics platform, that offers a competitive edge to Indian athletes by providing feedback and performance assessments using IoT-enabled wearable sensors and video cameras.

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