Tanvas: The Touchable Canvas

It is without question that technology has transformed our perception of time. Living lives of instant gratification; we have grown accustomed to having everything immediately at our fingertips. The way that we see and feel time is vastly different than the way our grandparents experienced it. Through innovations and advancements, even life during 1987 seems archaic today.

It was during this time the cofounders of Tanvas, Ed Colgate and Michael Peshkin, began working together to discover surface haptics. For 10 years at the Neuroscience and Robotics Laboratory at Northwestern’s McCormick School of Engineering, they researched the technology that created a multisensory experience for our touchscreens. Surface haptics is a new form of haptics that replicates the human sense of touch. Tanvas enables us to feel texture on flat or physical surfaces, like our phones or tablets.

Traditional haptic feedback relies on vibrations. Smartphones can give a tangible feeling when typing on a touchscreen using ordinary haptic feedback. When you touch the key on the flat screen, it vibrates slightly to give an impression of touching a physical button, but it doesn’t give much life to the flat, cold, and glassy touchscreen.

TanvasTouch technology gives a realistic sense of touch through its own screen that uses electromagnetic pulses to send responses back to your fingertips. To create virtual touch, it uses electrostatics to control friction. The technology enhances the feel so that you can feel the difference between corduroy and silk, curvy and straight lines, choppy, wavy, grainy, and fine. When you scroll your finger across the touchscreen you can feel the texture of grass, cobblestones, wooden bridges, and bricks.

This innovation brings a refined feeling of unlimited textures to our touchscreens. The possibilities of use of the application are limitless. Modulating friction, as the technology senses the finger position it provides haptics simultaneously. Haptics are infused in the display to simulate the things you see and feel. In practical use, TanvasTouch could enable clothing shoppers to feel the fabric before making their purchase.

This amazing advancement in technology took a great amount of research and development across a long span of time. In March 2006, Tanvas filed its first round of over 30 patents. The company was launched 5 years later, in May 2011 and publicly debuted at CES in January 2017. After receiving much acclaim and award, the company hopes to attract partners interested in implementing their technology.

This May, I was introduced to Tanvas, while on vacation in Chicago. Lounging poolside at the Soho House Chicago, I had the pleasure of meeting Jeff Allen, Tanvas’ Vice President of Product Development. I was honored when he shared the product and was extremely impressed by its technology. Without understanding haptics, Tanvas is simply cool. 30 years after its conception, I anxiously await the opportunity to be able to use it on a day to-day basis in its various applications.

The ease of use and convenience of technology can cause one to easily overlook the number of years many developers spend to bring all the products we use daily to life. The genius of these men and women, to be able to think ahead and create a solution for tomorrow coupled with their dedication to complete the tasks of these products across years and time is commendable and deserves an applause each time a device touches someone’s fingertip.

For more information about Tanvas and its technology, please visit: www.tanvas.co.
Contact K. Alex Shaw at [email protected]. Find more of her stories at
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