For years typists, computer operators, and industrial operators have been used to the tapping of their keyboards. The familiar soft feel of a keyboards keys, so much easier on the fingers than typewriters have echoed through offices and factories around the world for decades, but now there is a mini-revolution taking place. Physical keyboards are, in some cases, being replaces by virtual keyboards.
We're familiar with their use on phones where they have managed to increase screen real estate during the times when typing isn't required. But for screens and keyboards in office and factory environments the use of virtual keypads (beyond touch screen buttons) is unfamiliar.
Most modern cellphones, with the small displays use capacitive touch screens which support multi-touch, have high visibility in sunlight, high sensitivity, and are easy to use. They are however expensive and can't be used by anything inanimate such as objects, finger nails, and gloves.
In the HMI field, resistive and capacitive touch screens are starting to be used more frequently, as industries demand more up to date technology that mirrors the equipment that users use in their daily lives. The areas that they will be used in helps to determine which type of screen will be used. In rugged and clean environments where operatives are used to tapping their physical keys with tools or with gloves on, then resistive screens are used. In other areas, where bare hands are more common, capacitive screens can be used and the software can therefore use the benefits of multi-touch. But the problem with these screens is that users can't get a feel for what they are doing, it relies purely upon sight and one distraction could cause an expensive incident.
To help users get a feel for the screen buttons, researchers are developing new methods of providing haptic feedback (i.e., the sense of touch you get from objects when you touch them).
Researchers at Disney are developing ways in which users can feel textures on a touchscreen. Telsa Touch "uses a small static force to control friction between a user's finger and the touch screen." Which, according to Disney researcher Chris Harrison means that "if you carefully tune the frequency and the vibration of the panel, you can actually create things that feel like sandpaper or rubber or a wall." Telsa Touch was first introduced to us back in 2010 and in October 2013, they introduces a new algorithm that will, according to Ivan Poupyrev, director of Disney Research Pittsburgh's Interaction Group, "make it possible to render rich tactile information over visual content."
This system seems a lot easier to implement than the solution from Tactus Technology which projects a physical keyboard from the screen when it is required. The tapping may disappear in time as touch screens become more commonplace, but at least we'll still be able to feel the keys benefit our fingers.