Tactus Adds Feeling to Touch (IC6)

Tactus is a developer of IP for creating raised areas on touch screens, which it calls “Phorm”. This can be used to create better keyboards and input systems. The company has its first product coming out this year and its main manufacturing partner is Wistron.

The first product is an add-on for an iPhone mini that allows you to clip it on to the tablet and enables a switchable keyboard that is created by microfluidics. The liquid used has the same index as glass to minimise any visual compromise. Adding some extra fluid causes the buttons to rise. Very little power is used.

Tactus microfluidics

Tactus decided to start with typing as an application. Swiftkey did a survey several years ago that found that after battery life and screen size, the third most important feature of devices is the ability to type easily. Battery life remains an issue, while display size is basically fixed. However, typing quality is still very poor.

There are four different kinds of sensor in human fingers to detect different kind of touch. This makes the sense of touch very clever at discriminating for different tasks. Engaging as many of these different sensors as possible makes the touch and typing experience better. A standard haptics approach only uses some of the sensors, whereas using a physical button uses all the sensors.

“Flow” is important in typing or gaming. For flow, you need to use muscle memory and that means you need the muscles to really reflect and feel the difference between doing something right and doing it wrong. Using a keyboard on a flat screen doesn’t meet that requirement. A mechanical keyboard helps you to feel the difference between good and bad touches. Even small guide dots help.

Tactus started work in 2010 and got Series A funding in 2012 and Series B funding in 2013. There has been a lot of work to reduce thickness and weight of its system to meet market requirements. You can make buttons off screen as well as on screen devices. The Tactus design can actually adjust to the user, for example by being different for left and right hand operation. There is “tremendous” interest in the technology from the automotive industry, which wants drivers to be able to tell by touch what is going on,

The company believes that its TAM will eventually be at $10 billion.