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Tanvas’ haptic feedback system lets you feel texture on a touchscreen

Tanvas’ haptic feedback system lets you feel texture on a touchscreen

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Touchscreen technology has redefined the ways we interact with electronic devices, but while controls have gotten more precise over the years, touchscreens themselves haven’t been able to truly replicate the human sense of touch. Tanvas wants to add the ability to feel texture on a touchscreen with a new haptic feedback technology showcased at CES.

In my short demo, I played with a few sample applications. One lets you drag your finger through a virtual pool with pebble floors. The haptic feedback makes it feel like water ripples are following your fingertips, and the pebbles underneath create a slight “bump” between every other stone. It feels really zen.

Another interesting application is with one of Tanvas’ partners Bonobos, the apparel company. The app showed two pairs of pants — one cotton and one corduroy — and you can rub the screen to feel each fabric texture. While the screen doesn’t magically feel exactly like textile, it does give you a good sense of how smooth the fabric might be.

Tanvas says traditional haptic feedback relies on vibrations. The TanvasTouch technology would require its own screen that uses electromagnetic pulses to send more precise responses back to your fingertip. Technology like this isn’t a completely new idea, but Tanvas’ applications feel more refined. The team says it’s researched this technology for 10 years at Northwestern University. At CES, the company hopes to attract partners that may want implement its technology in things like games, educational apps, or to create a special mode for the visually impaired.

Getting partners on board, especially from a hardware stance, is going to be Tanvas’ biggest hurdle. But it’s cool to know such a technology exists should tablet and smartphone makers want to go beyond whatever it is Apple is doing with 3D Touch.