Microsoft developing touchscreens that shape-shift into keyboards

There's just no good way to simulate a real keyboard with a touchscreen, no matter what Acer wants us to think. Microsoft is working on a new technology that can turn touchscreens into shape-shifting keyboards with keys you can actually feel.

A new patent from Microsoft describes how little cells made out of shape-memory plastic can be used on top of a regular touchscreen to create textures. The cells are about the same size as the pixels in the display underneath, and when they get exposed to a specific wavelength of UV light, they stick up. Make them stick up in a grid pattern, and there you go, instant physical keyboard.

This kind of thing is good for way more than keyboards, too. Imagine all of the gestures that you currently use on touchscreens, and how much cooler it would be if you had physical controls that would appear to accompany them. Things like little handles for two finger zooming, touchable scroll bars, or actual knobs and dials to adjust volume.

Microsoft says that this technology is designed for large touchscreens like Surface and not for laptops or tablets or cell phones, but don't listen to them. On-demand physical keyboards are absolutely destined for mobile devices, where real estate is at a premium and physical keyboards spend so much of their time just wasting space.

Patent, via New Scientist

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