Microsoft said it was trying to do for the sense of touch what the color screens did for the sense of sight.

This is the main motto of haptics, a technology that provides tactile feedback and promises to make it possible for you to touch virtual objects.

Vibrations on video game consoles are an example of a haptic response, although there are far more exciting results, such as those capable of chilling your spine or allowing surgeons to operate your spine more safely.

Touch screens are enabling touch interactions impossible in the era of keyboards. But haptics can provide the complementary effect, allowing the user to “feel” what is on the screen.

Microsoft Research engineers used haptics to create 3D touch screens, which allow the manipulation of three-dimensional objects in virtual environments.

The technology received the name Actuated 3-D Display with Haptic Feedback – actionable 3-D screen with haptic feedback, in free translation.

Screen plus robotic arm

The system consists of a touch screen mounted on a robotic arm, designed to provide an instant sensitive response, including smooth movements in the three axes, giving a total feeling of depth.

By moving a finger on the screen, the user can interact with 3-D objects, experiencing different force responses that correspond to the physical simulation of each object – the screen detects the movement of the finger, and the robot moves to provide physical feedback.

A technology demonstration application consists of three virtual 3-D boxes, each with different virtual weights and frictional forces corresponding to the supposed material they are made of: stone, wood and sponge.

Users can push their finger through the virtual space until they find one of the boxes, and the object simulates adequate resistance through force feedback as the person tries to push each box.

Technology creators envision immediate applications of technology in the field of medical imaging.

"I can see an image of the front of the brain and push a finger through the layers of the organ to travel through the data. You can imagine receiving haptic feedback when you encounter an anomaly, like a tumor, because we can change the haptic response based on in what you touch. You can have different responses when touching soft or hard tissues, which contributes to a very rich experience," said Michel Pahud, one of the creators of the technology.

In fact, that dream was partially realized in 2007, when a Swedish researcher created a technology that allows "touching" the heart of a real patient through haptics.

More recently, another combination of screens and robotic arms, although 2D, resulted in the creation of the first robotic flight simulator.