Researchers from Aachen University, Germany, have developed an innovative new concept called Fingerflux that allows a user to feel objects on a screen without even touching it. Unveiled at the 2011 UIST conference in Santa Barbara, the new system uses an array of electromagnets to attract, repel, or vibrate your finger in any location on the panel. The prototype has been used to show how the system lets users feel common desktop UI concepts such as snap to grid and button presses. Despite the obvious downside for a user to have to wear a magnetic thimble, this means that the effect can be felt up to 35mm away — well before the screen is actually touched to confirm an action.
While Fingerflux is no more than an experiment for now, it's a big advance over the whole-device vibration method currently employed by many cellphones and tablets. Companies including Nokia and Sony have both toyed with different haptic methods which change the surface texture of the screen, and while these win on the convenience factor they can't guide you towards an object in the same way. The researchers have now published their design in a paper, and there's a video showing exactly how the tech performs below.