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WATCH: Researchers create OLED touchscreen that inflates with fluid to form buttons

Touchscreens all but dominate our modern surroundings, but tend to lack any sort of physical or haptic feedback that many people prefer. The Future Interfaces Group (FIG) at Carnegie Mellon University are looking to improve on that by creating a touch display that can “inflate” in small sections to form buttons.

At the core of FIG’s technology are Embedded Electroosmotic Pumps (EEOPs), a series of pumps that occupy a layer directly underneath an OLED panel. When triggered via software, the pumps fill predetermined sections of the layer with fluid, which causes the corresponding section of OLED to protrude to form a tactile button. When they are finished being used, the fluid is then quickly drained, resulting in a flat display once again. FIG says that inflating a section takes only a second.

See also: WATCH: Proto’s hologram call box is perfect for those using American Sign Language

In their demo video, FIG states, “The main advantage of this approach is that the entire mechanical system exists in a compact and thin form factor. Our device stack-ups are under 5mm in thickness while still offering 5mm of displacement. Additionally, they are self-contained, powered only by a pair of electrical cables and control electronics. They’re also lightweight, and they are capable of enough force to withstand user interaction.”

The inflatable sections can also be made to vary in both shape and size. This means that if the technology makes it to mass production, it could be leveraged to create display ‘keyboards’, or even braille, opening up a host of accessibility options for touchscreens everywhere.

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