At this week's Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona, tech giant Fujitsu debuted a prototype tablet that can produce textures through its touchscreen. To convey the feel of what's on screen, Fujitsu's "tactile sensory technology" employs static electricity and ultrasonic vibrations to mimic sensations like "prickly," "smooth," and "slimy."
Visitors at MWC can demo four examples of the technology: Strum a Japanese koto harp, experience the feel of a spinning record on a DJ deck, rotate a seemingly protruding combination lock, or touch the scaly skin of an alligator.
This kind of technology has the potential to revolutionize our sensory experience of the internet—and touchscreen games—by making virtual environments far more evocative and emotional. Imagine if shoppers could feel the fabric of a dress they found online, or reach out and pet a picture of a puppy. The potential is great for shoppers, educators, and general users alike.
Fujitsu isn't the first to tinker with vibrating screens, but it's the first to use "ultrasonic" vibration. By forming a high-pressure layer of air that reduces friction, ultrasonic vibration allows your fingers to experience a floating effect—also known as a slippery feeling. By oscillating between more and less friction, bumpier textures can be produced. Fujitsu admits that ultrasonic vibrations require significant energy, but on smaller devices like phones or tablets, it's less of an issue.
Fujitsu aims to bring its tactile sensory technology to market by the end of 2015.