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Microsoft FlexSense concept gives new physical input to Surface

A new conceptual technology from Microsoft Research hints at the future of tactile, malleable electronics.

Applications like Photoshop use virtual ‘layers’ to let you show and hide elements of a project, but what if you could physically flip between these layers with some sort of electronic overlay? That’s exactly what the latest tech demo from Microsoft Devices looks to demonstrate, with a concept dubbed FlexSense.

Paired with a Microsoft Surface Pro 3, the demo shows how the transparent layer can be used to show or hide a photo filter by simply peeling the FlexSense back. The same interaction is also seen working in instances like peeking at the answers of a crossword and checking between two frames of key frame animation. The concept seems novel, but the range of applications it could be twinned with is potentially very vast.

The FlexSense layer itself is actually a relatively simple interaction device consisting of 16 piezoelectric sensors that when paired to a set of algorithms, can translate bending and deformation of the transparent layer into 3D input. The demonstration video shows how the data from those sensors can be used to track the FlexSense in virtual space across 96 independent points of movement. Bending and flexing the film is even translated into control input for a rudimentary magic carpet game.

Whilst it’s highly unlikely the Surface Pro 4 will feature such technology, it demonstrates the potential benefits blending more tactile experiences into the current electronics market could be. Swiping and tapping on a flat display is one thing, but being able to twist, flex and interact in three dimensions is an intriguing concept indeed.