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Microsoft Working on Squishy Interface

Squishy may not be the correct word, however Microsoft Research is working on a new computer interface that doesn't require clicks or taps. In fact, it's a new tactile interface concept that allows users to squeeze, massage, poke, prod, squash, rub, and many other hand movements. Users can even sculpt 3D virtual objects by manipulating a ferrous fluid-filled bladder.

According to Stuart Taylor of Microsoft Research Cambridge, the surface can be easily configured for many different forms of input. The device consists of a "sensor tile" that produces magnetic multiple fields above its surface. The device tracks movements by detecting disturbances to these fields. Technology Review provides a few examples, including running a ball bearing across the surface to move the on-screen cursor.

The 100-square-centimeter tile itself contains arrays of 64 magnetic coils. Each coil is wrapped in a coiled wire, modeled loosely on an electric guitar configuration. "If you disrupt the field, this causes a current to be induced in the coil," Taylor said.

He also added that the interface could provide force-feedback by applying currents to the coils. This would induce physical effects on objects placed upon the tile. But that would be challenging to create: a device that would switch from input to output on the fly. He admitted that moving ball bearings would be easy, but getting the ferrous fluid bladders to move across the tile would be a bit more challenging.

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