updated 06:05 pm EST, Fri November 26, 2010
Microsoft patenting shape-memory touchscreens
A new Microsoft patent filing published on Thursday could lead to touchscreens that could change shape to create keyboards and other tactile objects. The technique for a "light-induced shape-memory polymer display screen" would send ultraviolet light to a plastic layer above each pixel to change its topography. Different UV wavelengths would make different parts hard or soft, creating bumps and ridges that could replicate a real surface and provide tangible keys.
The approach is targeted initially at hardware with projectors, such as the Surface multi-touch table, though it's not necessarily the case that it would depend on a projector to work. A small version for a direct view system like a regular LCD or AMOLED could obsolete physical keyboards on smartphones like the BlackBerry line by producing a tactile keyboard on demand without losing the large, smooth surface or resorting to methods that slow down the entire interface, such as RIM's click-down SurePress screen on the Storm2.
Microsoft's patent, originally filed in May 2009 by Erez Kikin-Gil, isn't necessarily an indication of definite plans from the company but could give the company an edge both in large touchscreens and eventually in Windows Phone 7 or tablets. [via New Scientist]