Dynamically Changeable Physical Buttons

March 19, 2010

CHRIS HARRISON | Physical buttons have the unique ability to provide low-attention and vision-free interactions through their intuitive tactile clues. Unfortunately, the physicality of these interfaces makes them static, limiting the number and types of user interfaces they can support. On the other hand, touch screen technologies provide the ultimate interface flexibility, but offer no inherent tactile qualities. In this paper, we describe a technique that seeks to occupy the space between these two extremes – offering some of the flexibility of touch screens, while retaining the beneficial tactile properties of physical interfaces.

The outcome of our investigations is a visual display that contains deformable areas, able to produce physical buttons and other interface elements. These tactile features can be dynamically brought into and out of the interface, and otherwise manipulated under program control. The surfaces we describe provide the full dynamics of a visual display (through rear projection) as well as allowing for multitouch input (though an infrared lighting and camera setup behind the display). To illustrate the tactile capabilities of the surfaces, we describe a number of variations we uncovered in our exploration and prototyping. These go beyond simple on/off actuation and can be combined to provide a range of different possible tactile expressions. A preliminary user study indicates that our dynamic buttons perform much like physical buttons in tactile search tasks.

Video Source: Chris Harrison

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