Soft touch-panel using LCD and photoelasticity

A research group at the University of Electro-Communications is working to achieve a soft tactile touch-panel, by combining a flat panel display with the photoelastic properties of transparent rubber.

Using this technology, it is be possible to give depth to video content as well as tactile feedback to the user.

“Conventional touchscreens don’t give tactile feedback when touched. So, for example, even if creators produce entertainment content where you can touch the characters directly to interact with them, it’s not much fun in the tactile sense. But by using gel to create soft sensations and 3D shapes, it’s possible to create content that is fun to touch.”

This system consists of a camera, polarizer, transparent elastic medium, and a flat panel display. The light from the display is always polarized, so by using a polarizing film, you can block the light from the display entirely. When transparent gel is placed between the polarizer and the LCD, and a force is applied to the gel, its polarizing properties change, so light passes through the polarizing filter. Then, only the part of the gel under pressure lights up and can be seen. By capturing this light with a camera, the system can detect where and how strongly, and in which direction the display was pressed. 

“In this system, the camera’s on top of the display, but in a system we’ve developed recently, the camera is installed on the back of the display. So the system can detect touch using the same principle even without a camera above it. So in other words, there’s no need to have a camera on top of the display.”

There are no particular restrictions on the form of the transparent gel. Also, the system can be multi-touch, with the ability to detect touching, pressing, pulling, or cutting actions.

“For example, if life-sized manikins are made from elastic material, this system could be used in medicine. I think it could also be used for healthcare simulations, such as massage and shiatsu.”

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