Smartphones of the future may have inflatable keyboards on OLED displays

Would it be possible to have a physical keyboard on a smartphone while keeping the touchscreen intact? The Future Interfaces Group (FIG) from Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) seems to think so as the researchers recently demonstrated such a keyboard can exist via inflatable buttons on an OLED screen.

This type of technology is called Flat Panel Haptics and has been in the works at CMU for the past 15 years (opens in new tab). The new breakthrough is that FIG has been able to develop a Flat Panel Haptics board five millimeters thick by developing an Embedded Electro-Osmotic Pump or EEOPs. According to the demo video (opens in new tab), the EEOPs can manipulate a special pumping fluid by running an electrical current through it. The pumps sit between a reservoir of this fluid on the bottom and a flexible surface on top. Running electricity through the stack allows the pumps to inflate a rigid button on top up to five millimeters in height.