I've railed against the proliferation of touchscreens on the dashboards of almost every new car before, and always because of one very good reason: you can't use them by feel.
This is a big deal when your eyes should be occupied by the houses and cars and cows flying at you at a mile-a-minute in the big window in front of you. Now, however, a company called Tactus Technology has developed a touch screen they say can dynamically create physical buttons.
To put it in terms we can all appreciate, this is some next-level shit.
The technology replaces the cover glass already present in touchscreens with a "tactile layer." This layer is essentially a thin, flat bubble with a deformable upper layer. Inside, there is a microfluidic layer beneath a divider with many tiny perforations, analogous to pixels on a display.
The tactile system can dynamically move fluid through the holes in a controlled manner to raise the elastic upper skin in precise ways, creating raised shapes over the display. Think if you had individual control over your skin pores and could create dynamic patterns of zits to display images and text. Actually, that's gross, don't think that.
From an automotive perspective, this could make all those flat-panel UI displays in cars vastly safer, as controls can once again be located by touch. Large, round knobs could appear on a screen for radio controls, raised sliders for HVAC, even novel solutions like a nav system with roads and icons that can be followed by touch alone.
The touch screen is a wonderful tool for interactions between people and their machines, but this is the one element that has been missing. The company claims the technology should be widely available by mid 2013. Let's hope it lives up to the potential.