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A New Dimension of the Touchscreen Experience

Kelsey Davis, Manager, Digital Media, Consumer Technology Association (CTA)
The touchscreen experience is incomplete, but new Consumer Technology Association (CTA) member Tanvas is changing that. Using electrostatics to control friction, Tanvas can create a multitude of sensations for touchscreens, for example the swipe of turning a page.

We had a chance to speak with Tanvas CEO Greg Topel about their technology and plans for CES 2017.
How did you first come up with Tanvas?

Tanvas cofounders, Ed Colgate and Michael Peshkin, have been working together for more than 20 years, founding two previous companies - Cobotics and Kinea Design - before founding Tanvas in 2011. TanvasTouch is the technology that emerged from over a decade of their work in the Neuroscience and Robotics Lab (NxR) at Northwestern University. It was here they pioneered a new branch of haptics - surface haptics or programmable haptic effects on physical surfaces.
How does the technology behind Tanvas work?

For too long, touchscreens have been incomplete;  they listen to the finger, but they don’t speak back. Vibration motors can be embedded inside a device, but they broadcast those vibrations indiscriminately, and they don’t support the most important thing, which is to reach out to touch and feel something. TanvasTouch brings real-time control of the forces acting between a fingertip and the touch surfaces. 

The solid state touchscreen features a highly engineered piece of glass that serves as a protective cover lens, touch input sensor and haptic output actuator. Electric fields are used to modulate the friction forces acting on the finger with pixel-level resolution, giving the designer a vast gamut with which to work.

TanvasTouch introduces an entire sense to today's touchscreen interactions — a new dimension that previously did not exist and that consumers have never felt in the digital world yet expect in the real world. From automotive, gaming and visual impairment to retail, advertising and the arts, the potential applications for TanvasTouch are limitless.
What is the most rewarding part of launching a technology startup? The most challenging?

I recently wrote a blog post on this very topic. For me, the single most important task of a CEO is striking a balance between setting the course for our big, hairy audacious goals in the face of constant criticism while carefully listening for insights from others to find the path forward.
Every startup wants to disrupt the norm, which is challenging since many people and systems are resistant to change. That alone makes our task demanding. The good news is that we are in a unique position to be launching technology that is truly disruptive. Adding an entirely new dimension to flat surfaces is novel, and surface haptics is not yet an integral part of touchscreen devices today.
While our team is still small, we have a range of expertise in addition to an unwavering sense of optimism about the future of haptic-enabled technology. I feel fortunate to lead a team of such talented and dedicated individuals who are not afraid of the significant challenges ahead and — dare I say — even motivated by them.

You are exhibiting at CES 2017. Can you tell us a little about your plans for the show?

We could not be more excited about our CES debut. It’s been all hands on deck in preparation for the big show. We recently completed the design and construction of our booth, and we’re focused on finalizing the demo applications that we plan to showcase. We have a corner booth (#50408) inside Eureka Park, right near the main doors, so we hope to get the attention of attendees as they enter Tech West in the Sands Expo, Level 1.

The one thing everyone at Tanvas understands is that in order for this new touch dimension to reach its full capacity, it needs to be seen and felt by the widest possible audience. By increasing awareness among the broad ecosystem of creators, builders and makers, we are inspiring others to evangelize surface haptics and help move this new technology to the mainstream in creative and innovative ways.

This ability to add a realistic sense of touch and unlimited effects on any touch-enabled screen will one day be ubiquitous. We aim to be the company to make touch a reality for everyone.
What is next for Tanvas?

The impact of multisensory experiences elevates our increasingly connected lives in a way that promises to benefit anyone and everyone who interacts with a touch display. Beyond our widespread debut at CES 2017, the biggest milestone on the horizon for Tanvas is the launch of our TanvasTouch Dev Kit in Q1. These kits are comprised of hardware, electronics and software — everything a developer would need to create dynamic visual and multisensory experiences (learn more on our website).

We also hope to expand our network of OEMs, agencies and developers who are interested in “haptifying” their existing products and applications or developing and creating new differentiating experiences for their customers and innovative brands. There is so much creativity to tap with TanvasTouch technology — new textures and immersive experiences — and the future of touch is literally at our fingertips.

We hope CES attendees will join us as we try to make this future a reality.
Learn more about what you’ll see at CES 2017.