The physical keyboard could return to smartphones in a novel way. A research team from the Carnegie Mellon University’s Future Interfaces Group is developing inflatable buttons that can exist alongside a touchscreen.

The CMU has been working on flat panel haptics for 15 years, and they recently made significant progress with the technology using embedded electroosmotic pumps that can manipulate fluids through electrokinetic flow. With these pumps, the team has managed to inflate rigid buttons up to five millimeters on top of a flexible surface. In other words, the buttons can be controlled to reveal themselves when needed and then revert to their deflated otherwise.

Watch the video below so you can see for yourself the pumps in action for creating scalable shape displays:

Applications of flat panel haptics go beyond the on-demand pop-up physical keyboard for smartphones. For instance, the tech can bring accessibility for visually impaired individuals by providing haptic feedback. Such physical tactile sensations can also enhance the immersive experience that gamers enjoy in video games.

Despite the progress and having shown working prototypes, the research team says flat panel haptics still needs more dedicated development. In a research paper published in April 2023, the researchers enumerated current limitations that necessitate future work.

These limitations include the power consumption, reliability, durability, and the need for a faster flow rate for a more dynamic shape display. The reservoir layer that contains the fluid also currently adds noticeable bulk on a smartphone, which can be unappealing for users who’ve gotten used to slim and lightweight designs.

This article, The physical keyboard may return to smartphones in the form of inflatable buttons, was originally published at NoypiGeeks | Philippines Technology News, Reviews and How to’s.