One of the defining features of the Surface Pro and Surface Laptop is the Alcantara fabric used on their keyboards. But while that fabric covering may only serve to add some good looks, for now, it could become a whole lot more functional in future iterations – if a new patent from Microsoft is any indication.
Titled “Forming Touch Sensor on Fabric,” the patent (via Windows Latest) explores methods for embedding touch sensors into fabric surfaces, along with possible uses. Due to the complexity of building a capacitive surface into the uneven surface of a fabric, Microsoft describes different materials and processes that could be used to form touch-sensitive areas. Generally, however, the process would involve using conductive ink and a thin, smooth dielectric structure bonded to the fabric.
The result, as Microsoft describes, would be touch-sensitive areas of fabric that could be applied to everything from tablets and wearables to furniture. No matter the application, the touch-sensitive fabric could be configured to respond to gestures and interact with apps or connected devices.
Imagine, for example, being able to swipe a defined portion of your Surface or HoloLens to adjust your volume or quickly switch between apps. On a piece of furniture, the touch-sensitive surface could be paired to a TV to change channels or a thermostat to adjust the temperature.
As with all patents, it’s worth remembering that this technology may never make it to a shipping product. Microsoft patents a lot of things, many of which either never see the light of day or end up implemented in entirely different ways. Still, the idea of putting that Alcantara to use with touch gestures is alluring.