Microsoft has patented a tactile touchscreen that uses pixel-sized shape-memory plastic cells to produce a 'real' texture, reflecting what is seen on the screen. The technique is designed to give users sufficient feedback to make it feel as though they are interacting with the images pictured on their screen, which may make physical keyboards a thing of the past.

According to the patent, the tactile touchscreen display will be made out of a light-induced shape-memory polymer. This will become solid and stick out when a particular wavelength of ultraviolet light is transmitted through it, soft when another wavelength hits it. By varying the occurance of these frequencies, texture can be created on the fly.

In the patent, inventor Erez Kikin-Gil said the idea is aimed at table-sized displays such as the those used in Microsoft's 'Surface'. A projector is built into Surface devices, and produces an on the table top. Infrared sensors then detect where a user is interacting with the screen, and produce the textual feedback.