It is amusing to see how seemingly unrelated things have similar roots. Today I came across information about a cool mobile phone concept for the visually impaired, designed by Samsung. The touch technology involved in the concept phone incorporated something called Electric Activating Plastic, or EAP.
This sparked my curiosity, and while searching for more information, I came across an article in MIT's Technology Review that caught my eye:
A Touch of Ingenuity: Inexpensive pressure-sensitive pad could make surfaces smarter
(Kate Green, MIT Technology Review September/October 2009)
UPDATE: As of 2/2010, TouchCo no longer exists. It was bought by Amazon:
..Now that more and more smart phones and MP3 players have touch-screen interfaces, people have grown accustomed to interacting with gadgets using only taps and swipes of their fingers. But on the 11th floor of a downtown Manhattan building, New York University researchers Ilya Rosenberg and Ken Perlin are developing an interface that goes even further. It’s a thin pad that responds precisely to pressure from not only a finger but a range of objects, such as a foot, a stylus, or a drumstick. And it can sense multiple inputs at once."
Ken Perlin and Ilya Rosenberg developed this system as part of their human-computer interaction work at NYU's Media Research Lab, and with the success of their work, went on to start a new company, Touchco, to commercialize and market this concept, known as IFSR (Interpolating Force-Sensitive Resistance) technology.
"The IFSR sensor revolutionizes the field of multi-touch human-computer interaction by out-performing existing solutions in both price and capabilities. Unlike traditional capacitive sensors, our patent pending system can detect any object - not just a finger - and can determine how much pressure is being applied to every point on a sensor simultaneously. IFSR sensors are natively multi-touch, use less power than capacitive sensors, and are much less expensive to produce, making them a highly disruptive technology with widespread market applications."
The Touchco website has a wealth of information regarding this technology. (Update: The TouchCo website was taken down in February 2010)
Other members of Touchco include Nadim Awad, Fang Cheng, Julien Beguin, and Christopher Nam.
I know of Ken Perlin through his Games for Learning work, and also through his on-line application, Responsive Face, which I use in my work with students who have autism.
Ken Perlin's Blog
Games for Learning Institute
Samsung Braille TouchPhone Prototype is Cool: Uses Electric Active Plastic for functional tactile feedback.