Tablet PCs or any other device that function on the perception of human touch all behave in much the same manner. This in the sense that for a touchscreen device, a touch is always a touch and no matter which part of the body is used to make the touch, it will always yield the same result. As such, an inherent disadvantage with touchscreen devices is that the screen recognizes only the touch but not the difference between the intentions of the touch. Thankfully for us, the limitation has been realized by the researchers at Carnegie Mellon University’s Human-Computer Interaction Institute who have taken on the job of developing a technology that would recognize touch made by different parts of the finger and act accordingly. The system they have come up with has been labeled TapSense, and is yet in its prototype stages.
What TapSense is in easy terms is that the technology is smart enough to determine what has been used to make the touch and can be programmed to act accordingly. So whether it be the nail, knuckle tip, or the finger pad, the TapSence enabled touchscreen can differentiate between them all. In fact, the technology can even pick out whether a stylus used to tap the screen is made of wood or acrylic.
The way the TapSense technology works is this: different objects or different parts of the body used to touch the display will generate different sounds which in turn can be picked up with the help of an inexpensive microphone attached to the display. The sound thus recorded is than compared to a set of pre-recorded sound samples and can be used to react in a desired manner. The device’s own mic can’t be used for this (hence the need for an additional mic) but the result is astonishing nonetheless.
Users of such devices would therefore be able to remain on their main application and use different parts of the finger to execute other tasks on the same screen. It’s somewhat similar to the use of the right mouse button that this technology would give the users. Demos of the technology being developed showed an instance where a knuckle tap on the heading of the email brought up a certain list of options rather than opening up the email. In a paint application the finger tip can be used to draw straight lines while the finger pad would draw freehand. In a word application, users were able to access alternate character sets while using their finger tip and a nail tapping gave them the back key function.
While all of the above does sound interesting, unfortunately the technology isn’t ready to make its commercial debut yet, nor is there a time frame available for when we can expect that to happen.