Soon, Touchscreens At Malls And Stores Will Touch You Back

UltraHaptics is a new technology, designed for retail, allowing giant touchscreens to give users physical feedback as they click, swipe, and type.

Those ubiquitous giant touchscreens you always see at theme parks, malls, retailers, and casinos are about to get even fancier. Researchers at Bristol University in England have unveiled what they call UltraHaptics: big-screen touch devices, similar to the touchscreens on Androids or iPhones, which give users physical feedback before they even touch the screen. The devices emit ultrasonic vibrations from multiple points in real time, giving customers a feeling of “buzzing” or physical feedback like keys on a keyboard clacking.

Haptic (tactile) feedback is a huge area of interest for developers and brands right now, as everyone from automakers to retailers explore touch as a new medium for advertising. Although Apple has been famously dismissive of haptics, Microsoft and Android developers are taking the ball and running with it. The Bristol University research paper, which will be presented at the ACM Symposium on User Interface Software and Technology, is one of the biggest strides yet in adapting haptics to hospitality and retail.

In other haptics news, Disney R&D spinoff Disney Research recently unveiled a new algorithm for rendering 3-D tactile features onto touchscreens. “Touch interaction has become the standard for smartphones, tablets and even desktop computers, so designing algorithms that can convert the visual content into believable tactile sensations has immense potential for enriching the user experience,” said Ivan Poupyrev of Disney Research, Pittsburgh in a release. “We believe our algorithm will make it possible to render rich tactile information over visual content and that this will lead to new applications for tactile displays.” Poupyrev’s team will unveil its algorithm at the same conference as the Bristol group.