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Nanotouch technology shrinks touchscreen displays

Prototype technology lets a user control a touchscreen with the back of the display

By Nick Barber, IDG News Service
April 07, 2009 01:00 PM ET

IDG News Service - Touchscreens can only get so small before fingers start to block most of the information on them, but a project from Microsoft Research and the Hasso Plattner Institut in Germany called Nanotouch allows a touchscreen device to be controlled from its backside, preventing fingers from occluding the screen.

"We're using a principle called pseudo transparency so that we can pretend we can see through the screen and as we do this we see the document we're manipulating, we can see the finger and we get no occlusion and precise manipulation," said Patrick Baudisch, a research scientist with Microsoft Research and a professor and chair of the Human Computer Interaction Department at the Hasso Plattner Institut in Potsdam, Germany.

Baudisch had several prototype 2.4-inch screens on display at the Computer Human Interface, or CHI, conference in Boston. One of the displays was the pseudo transparent display, which showed a finger on the display screen when a real finger touched the back of the display. Another prototype featured a first-person shooter (FPS) game where the gamer guided the shooter through the game using the back of the device.

On the back of the prototype is a gray and white grid with four raised nubs, similar to those on the F and J keys on a keyboard. Baudisch said those are for orienting fingers on the back of the device.

Nanotouch grew out of a previous iteration that incorporated a larger display and webcam called Lucid Touch.

In order for Nanotouch technology to be found in mainstream devices, Baudisch said that technology has to scale down in order to fit in these new, smaller devices. For example, he said that in a year or two a mobile audio player that fits into the size of a coin could be created and that maybe five years from now a cell phone could be developed using the technology.

Baudisch said there are touchscreen watches on the market, but that some required styluses for control of the screens. Baudisch's plan is to embed the technology on the wrist band of the watch so that the user has greater control without occluding the display with a finger.

"It's not like we're waiting for a specific time to start doing this, but every year as technology shrinks we can pack more and more technology into these devices," Baudisch said.

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