Science – Tactile display technology

morphing_gel_display.jpgA team of scientist at the Technical University in Dresden / Germany has demonstrated a new display technology that adds to the visible information representation the tactile dimension.

The display is formed of hydro gel droplets the size of 0.3 millimeter packing 297 ‘pixels’ onto just one square centimeter, a pretty high resolution.

Hydro gels are a type of material used for example to make soft contact lenses and consist mainly of water bound up within a polymer. Some types of hydro gels can swell or shrink in response to changing conditions like temperature.

The two scientists Andreas Richter and Georgi Paschew created a square array of 4225 blobs of temperature-sensitive hydro gel on a black polyester backing that heats up when hit by a beam of light.

The pixels are 0.5 millimeters tall but if heated to 35 °C they release some of their water and shrink by half, getting harder and change to opaque creating a visual as well as tactile representation of the displays content.

Once the light beam moves away from a pixel, its temperature quickly drops and the gel swells back to its previous size, sucking up its lost water. The whole system is sealed beneath a plastic membrane to prevent water from escaping.

The phase change of the hydro gel between liquid and solid can be done as fast as 2x per second which makes it a bit too slow for watching videos but this is not intended by the team as they see their target user group in enabling visually impaired people to see/feel information.

As the materials involved in this system are soft and flexible, I can very well imagine how this technology could be integrated into accessories like bags our pouches for cell phones enabling visually impaired people to read/feel text messages in braille.

According to the article by New Scientist, the technology still needs some tweaking like lowering the temperature at which the gel response but most of the groundwork is done and to bring this technology into reality might be sooner than one might expect.

We will certainly stay on the lookout and report back any new breakthrough from this ‘morphing gel display’.

[source: New Scientist]

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