In the ongoing pursuit of making touchscreens feel a little less flat and smooth, researchers at Aachen University in Germany have created a prototype display with embedded magnets that provide a tactile response to users interacting with on-screen elements.

Just below the surface of their prototype interactive table sits an array of tiny electromagnets whose strength and polarization can be individually controlled. In its current form the system requires users to wear a magnet on their finger, like a small thimble, but that minor inconvenience facilitates some unique methods of interaction. One of the biggest issues with touchscreen interfaces is that you often need your eyes to guide your finger to a button. But the FingerFlux system could blindly guide a user's finger to a specific part of the screen by generating strategically placed attractive and repulsive magnetic forces. Games that use onscreen controls could also be improved, actively correcting the position of the user's finger over a button or control pad while their attention is focused elsewhere.

FingerFlux even has the potential to allow the visually impaired to operate a touchscreen interface by rendering simple shapes like buttons and keys that could be physically felt. And that embedded magnetic array is even strong enough to influence a finger, or the tip of stylus, from as far as 35mm away. So the feedback could be felt well before the user touches the display, and interactions could be detected without an actual touch at all. Goodbye fingerprints and smudges! [FingerFlux via Hack a Day]