The lack of any tactile feedback makes it difficult to type or play games on a touchscreen device. So Swiss researchers have developed a new haptic interface that uses microscopic vibrations that could one day make touchscreens feel like they have individual buttons, or even distinct textures. Can I interest you in a furry iPad?

Developed by the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland, the prototype device features a touchscreen wheel, like an iPod, enhanced with a piezoelectric surface. When a voltage is applied that piezoelectric material vibrates, and while those microscopic vibrations are imperceptible to human touch, a very thin layer of vibrating air is created which can be felt. By adjusting the level of voltage, and specifying where on a touchscreen those vibrations occur, the illusion of distinct buttons or unique textures can be created.

The obvious advantage to the research is one day making on screen keyboards easier to use with touch typing techniques, instead of the hunt and peck approach. But it also has applications for those with disabilities, providing another way to display braille characters, and letting visually impaired persons literally feel an image or user interface. [EPFL via SlashGear]