One sign of a truly transcendent technology is ubiquity. Wireless technology, for example, is everywhere. Rather than being confined to personal computers or smartphones, the technology is used in everything from pacemakers to refrigerators. Tactile pressure-sensing technology holds a similar promise, capable of augmenting everyday life in ways that might not be immediately obvious.
Consider the TactilePad technology that I covered in my guest blog on Design News last month. It has the potential to revolutionize personal computing by bringing the power of pressure sensitivity to laptop clickpads. However, the same basic technological principles could be extended to an array of other applications, with imagination, in theory, being the only limit.
Some of these possible applications were touched on briefly in the blog post on TactilePad technology, which sparked several interested responses. Here is a more detailed look at some of those applications, as well as a few more ideas that illustrate the technology’s potential.
The past few years have seen a significant burst of interest in 3D printers, which stand to revolutionize everything from prosthetics and baking to home construction. As part of that boom, 3D printers are also becoming increasingly available for personal and home use. While this is exciting, the ceiling of what one can currently do with a 3D printer at home is somewhat limited. Without a proficiency in complicated design software, it’s difficult to create something new with a 3D printer. Interacting with designs in such programs can be tricky and cumbersome if you're using conventional cursors and touchpads.
TactilePad technology could play a key role in opening up the world of 3D printing to the small-scale home user by making it possible to manipulate and shape a 3D computer image via physical, tactile input. This could especially appeal to those in the artistic community who are used to working with their hands and aren’t interested in learning how to operate design software.
A TactilePad could enable a sculptor or a jewelry maker, say, to create a piece for 3D printing by pressing on the pad with their fingers. That makes the experience much more intuitive and consistent with the spirit of traditional artistic techniques. It would be possible to create almost anything in one’s own home, without having to fire up the kiln. In fact, one group of students participating in the 2012 User Interface Software and Technology (UIST) student innovation contest already demonstrated the capability of a pressure-sensitive input device (Synaptics’ ForcePad) to assist in 3D sculpting.
That isn’t to say that applications of TactilePad technology would be limited to hobbyists or small-scale artists. The same principles could apply to professional-tier design. Consider the clay models that are still used in automotive design. Many automotive designers are, of course, undoubtedly more proficient with sophisticated design tools and software than the average home hobbyist or artist. 3D computer-aided design (CAD) has become commonplace in the design world overall. However, that doesn’t mean such software tools are necessarily easy to use. Sculpting curves is tough to do on a digital 3D model, no matter how proficient you are with the software.