CES 2013: Tactus' technology brings real keys to touchscreen surface

We saw plenty of touchscreen-related innovations at CES last week, but one of the technologies on display that stuck with us the most was Tactus’ ‘morphing tactile surface’.

The Fremont, California-based company has shown off a way to make real buttons appear on a touchscreen, potentially offering a solution that could finally satisfy consumers who want a physical keyboard to go along with their smartphones. On a Tactus-enabled device, physical keys rise up from the screen on-demand; when you’re simply looking at the screen, they disappear.

Here’s how the technology works: there is a small amount of fluid that is stored in the phone or tablet, beneath the touchscreen surface. When enabled, that fluid is drawn into specific parts of the screen to form whatever kind of keypad is required. When the buttons are disabled, the fluid and buttons disappear, leaving behind a conventional full-touchscreen surface.

In CES’ Eureka Park startup zone, Tactus demonstrated its technology on a 7in Android tablet, but insisted that the technology can be scaled up to larger devices (including televisions) and to different platforms. A company executive told ITProPortal that Tactus is working directly with OEMs to integrate its virtual keyboards into third-party devices, with production set to begin this year.

As unbelievable as it sounds, a brief hands-on with Tactus’ demo tablet revealed a truly phenomenal technology - something that could prove to be a game-changer, and perhaps even a standard, in consumer electronics.