Tag Archives: Microsoft Research

FlexSense is a deformable surface that makes your tablet smarter

The team at Microsoft Research has recently unveiled a new ultra-thin, transparent piece of bendable material embedded with sensors.


Essentially, FlexSense is a self-sensing surface that can sit atop a tablet, like the Surface, and is capable of recognizing itself being folded or contorted. Upon being bent, the material accepts the deformation input and translates that information for the application in use.

FlexSense can be paired with tablets to provide users with what Microsoft dubs “2.5D input.” Any place you can imagine flexing or bending material, FlexSense can be applied. As the video below demonstrates, there are a wide-range of uses and opportunities, from paper-like animation to applying rendering effects in Photoshop.


In addition, there are also some entertainment value associated with FlexSense. Just envision playing a video game where you can use the entire smart cover as a gaming controller, flapping the surface like a pair of wings, or peeling back the material to check for crossword puzzle answers.

As its team notes, “FlexSense is based on printed piezoelectric sensors, which can reconstruct complex deformations without the need for any external sensing, such as cameras. FlexSense provides a fully self-contained setup which improves mobility and is not affected from occlusions.”

Using only a sparse set of sensors, printed on the periphery of the surface substrate, the Microsoft researchers developed two new algorithms to interpret the 16 sensors built into FlexSense.

The team went on to add, “Every piezoelectric sensor creates a surface charge which correlates to the applied deformation. Since the total number of sensors in our layout is small, we can connect each individually using conductive silver ink to the driver board. This removes the issues associated with the active ma- trix described earlier.”

“Each sensor is connected to a LMC6482 CMOS rail-to-rail amplifier. These are placed on a small PCB board that is connected to the foil. Before the amplification the signals run through a low pass filter, which protects it against electrostatic discharge. After the amplification a second low pass filter protects the signal from anti-aliasing issues.”

Each signal then gets measured through a MAX127 12-bit data acquisition system which sends the data via a two-wire serial interface to an Atmel | SMART Cortex-M3 MCU, the SAM3X8E.

Those interested in attaining more information on the innovative project — which was done in collaboration with Christian Rendl and Michael Haller of Media Interaction Lab at the University of Applied Sciences Upper Austria — can access the entire report here.