Microsoft-funded research breakthrough paves way for touchless touchscreen

The Johannes Keppler Universität in Linz announced today that it developed a revolutionary new image sensor – the first image sensor in the world that is both transparent and flexible. The new technology should make it possible to develop touchscreens that you don’t actually have to touch anymore.

How it works: an image sensor is a device that converts an optical image into an electronic signal – it’s mostly used in digital cameras. Today, they look something like this:

The flexible sensor that Oliver Bimber and Alexander Koppelhuber of the Institute for Computer Graphics developed looks more like a sheet of transparent, flexible film (see feature image), and it can be produced at low costs at any size and installed on virtually any surface, say the researchers.

Because the sensors are transparent, they can also be layered, one on top of the other. That alone solves a good deal of the problems of image sensors today, like underlighting or overlighting that current image sensor have: “Layering image sensors allows you to capture images with different exposures in different layers”, says professor Bimber.

It would also increase the resolution of images, because with this technology you can caputure each color in a separate layer, which would mean a significant advancement over current image sensors, according to the researchers. 

The sensors are still in prototype phase, but there would be multiple practical applications. One possible application would be to install the sensors on windshields of cars. But the technology is particularly interesting for user interfaces – it would make it possible to develop ‘touchscreens’ that you don’t actually have to touch anymore (include obligatory ‘Minority Report’ trailer here, it’s at 0:17 in the YouTube clip).

It’s primarily this latest application that Microsoft Research (which cofunds the research) is interested in, according to prof. Bimber. Microsoft announced that it would continue funding the project for another three years.

Read the press release here.

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Raf Weverbergh

Editor of whiteboard. Raf Weverbergh was a magazine journalist whose work appeared in magazines like Rolling Stone, Playboy, Mail on Sunday, Publico and South China Morning Post. He is the co-founder of FINN, a corporate communications agency where he advises startups and multinationals on their PR and Mustr, the easiest media database for PR professionals. You can contact him on Twitter, Linkedin or Skype (rafweverbergh).

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