A New York start-up has made its possible for nearly any surface to become a multi-touch input like a smartphone, including floors and automotive dashboards. Smart floors would identify someone by his or her gait, and could even flag suspicious behavior in stores. A car could have a minimalistic interior without buttons or dials. A wall could become a home control.
Tactonic demonstrated its technology at the New York Tech Meetup last night. It has invented pressure sensors that create a touch screen type capability on a variety of things - even flexible substrates like OLEDs or thermoformed objects. Software creates many possibilities, some of which were discussed during the Meetup. Other use cases are still surfacing (pun intended).
Tactonic's use of pressure sensors eliminates the need for fingers or styluses, explained CEO Gerry Seidman. That would allow a "smart skin" to be built into a floor or transform plastic automotive panels (or displays) into solid-state controls. Surfaces could even be back-lit or durable.
Seidman said that the company was working to install smart flooring into factories to sniff out ergonomics concerns. A worker carrying an unsafe load can be recognized by how they walk, he explained. A retail store could deploy a floor that knows when a shoplifter is up to no good or identify scenarios where there may be too many uncommitted buyers passing by a display. Everyone's walk is like a fingerprint, so it's entirely possible that a retailer could gain customer intelligence through discreet observation.
Here's my two cents: that might sound intrusive, but think of it another way - it could mean an end to annoying retail alarms and plastic gates outside of stores. Those awful plastic clamshell things that are almost impossible to open up? Gone. An intelligent retail system could be used to determine buyer intent, and a known customer might receive offers on their smart phones as they are shopping.
Less obvious applications could affect how buildings are designed. A smart wall panel could be used to turn the lights on or set the thermostat, completely eliminating obtrusive controls and switches. A doormat could recognize you and unlock your front door. It also comes down to imagination, and how well the technology works in practice (the demos had a few hiccups).
There are clearly some privacy concerns associated with this type of technology, but many use cases need not involve any. Regardless of controversy, prepare for a new era of human interface design.
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(Image credits: Tactonic)