Rear Touch User Interface

Touch panel operation on the back side of a device

In search of a user interface (UI)

In 2001, Jun Rekimoto came up with SmartSkin. This “electronic skin” is capable of non-digital collection of information at fingertips, palms and many other points of human skin. Rekimoto had considered that future electronic devices would be covered with such “skin,” so that their entire surface, including the back, would become capable of interaction with humans. Rekimoto’s invention inspired Sony Computer Science Laboratories to develop new forms of user interfaces to run on new-age computing devices. Rekimoto was joined by Tatsushi Nashikoda and Ivan Poupyrev, and they went on to build what they called Rear Touch UI.

リアタッチユーザーインターフェース_ページ用_011How the scientists inspired each other and brought their idea to life

In Rekimoto’s office, which was responsible for the earliest SmartSkin experiments, Nashikoda found scores of copper wires crossing at right angles to one another, all connected to a computer by way of circuits. On the computer’s screen, Nashikoda noticed what looked like a handprint seen through frosted glass.

Photo: SmartSkin (Rekimoto 2001)

リアタッチユーザーインターフェース_ページ用_01Rekimoto reviewing a case where the UI was installed on the back of a computing device.

Illustration: A sketch of Rekimoto’s initial idea for Rear Touch UI (Rekimoto 2002)



At that time, Nashikoda had an idea about new-age computers that would feature a thin, compact design. Nashikoda, an industrial designer, had known that plastic containers, better known as “cabinets”, became a dominant form of packaging for commercial products. He got the idea to introduce plastic packaging for Rear Touch UI. Nashikoda lost no time in putting the idea into a drawing that showed Rear Touch UI in a Sony product.

Illustration: Sketch of a Sony product covered with SmartSkin (Nashikoda 2002)

リアタッチユーザーインターフェース_ページ用_04Rekimoto and Nashikoda then made a mock-up using a magnet and iron sand. (see photo ).  Then, they built a prototype of a personal digital assistant taking finger movements into account. This led to the development of Rear Touch UI.

Hardware development followed the key concept

These ideas, in the time of equipment for many signal processing necessary, we remain difficult problem in the product. Thanks to the continued development of touch panel technology and the growth in the computing capability of electronic equipment, the hurdles were steadily cleared, making it realistic to begin creating products.

Nashikoda transferred to Sony Corp.’s Technology Development Headquarters and joined the User Experience development group, where he built on the original ideas. This contributed to the development of a rear touch pad for use in the PlayStation (R) Vita, Sony’s mobile entertainment system, which was unveiled in January, 2011. The Rear-touch User Interface technology, when used together with the multi-touch screen on the front, gives users three-dimensional feelings -- the sensations of touch, seize, trace, press out and pull — thus expanding the scope of game plays available exclusively with the PlayStation Vita.

Photo: PlayStation (R) Vita’s rear touch pad

Listed below are Sony’s primary patents on Rear Touch UI.

■ Japanese Patent No: 3,852,368
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