Poor Man’s Stylus

Touchscreens have become ubiquitous interfaces. There are absolutely no barriers for using touch gestures to get things done on smartphones, tablets or any other smart devices. Even toddlers seem to quickly grasp the concepts of ‘swipe’, ‘drag’ and ‘pinch zoom’ with minimal instructions. In fact, I  have seen most of the toddlers trying ‘swipe’ on everything they interact with these days.

As with any technology, the ubiquity of use doesn’t necessarily mean the ubiquity of knowledge on how the technology works. Though people use smartphones and interact with the touchscreens many times a day, the know-how of what happens underneath our fingers still remains a mystery to many.

Here at Vedantu, when we ventured into building the entire experience of teaching and learning on a smartphone, we realized how amazing the technology is. The sheer amount of possibilities the smartphones open up for innovation blew our minds. After months of fun-filled experimentation, we have fully-functional whiteboard on smartphones and tablets running on Android. Students can continue their learning on devices which they grew up having fun with.

One of the biggest challenges we encountered while building whiteboard technology was to differentiate between the touch of a finger and that of the palm resting on the touchscreen. The challenge was more pertinent in case of tablets where the sensitive touchscreen is larger or when users prefer to use a stylus to write on the touchscreen.

We thought of researching on understanding the user experience around using stylus on Vedantu whiteboard on tablets. While we were doing so, on a weekend, I didn’t have a stylus to work with and started researching how exactly a stylus work with a touchscreen. I realized, almost every smartphone in present day’s market sports some form of capacitive touchscreen, which has an electrostatic grid above the display screen. When the user taps on this screen, charge from this grid is discharged through the skin of the finger. And that’s the simple yet powerful mechanism that detects touch on the device – Making the world go round on the fingertips!

Static

Now, after knowing the fact, I couldn’t stop my curious mind from digging deeper into details and researching about materials that can discharge the static charge from the touchscreen to simulate a finger touch. The easiest find was a piece of an aluminum foil used to wrap food in order to retain heat. I folded a small piece of foil and wrapped it around the pen and started using it, just like one would use a pen – My test stylus was ready!

I tapped on the phone and voila, it worked! The touchscreen was tricked to process it as a touch event!

Though I could navigate, writing on whiteboard was not satisfying.  So, the curious mind got to the work again – The hunt for best materials to be used for refining the writing experience while tricking the touchscreen.  I tried tin used for soldering, copper wires, capacitors from my college lab kit, metal enclosure of dead mobile batteries and whatnot! Finally found a material that was deceptively simple and ubiquitously used in packaging – Anti-static plastic! (Yeah, I actually spent quite some time before discovering something as abundantly available as this) This is the same plastic used for wrapping most of your gadgets and appliances, especially hard disks, motherboards, etc. Yes, there is a reason behind using it, this plastic discharges static current created in such gadgets/parts through friction.

The excited me, couldn’t control myself from quickly building up a prototype. I ran around the office showing off my poor man’s stylus to my fellow Vedans (yeah, that kinda gave me a high and I was enjoying my very own Eureka moment). Later sometime, while surfing the Internet, I realized that I was not the only one hacking up styli from such mundane materials. This boosted my ‘hacking spirit’ a few counts high and I couldn’t stop myself from sharing the excitement with you all through this wonderful medium provided by Vedantu – Awesome place for innovations!

I am sure a lot of you might be having your own hacking stories, do share them in the comments below, I, errr…we would love to read them 😛
About the Author

Supreeth.K.S

Supreeth works with Vedantu as an Android Engineer and enjoy watching world cinema apart from diving deep in such crazy hacking!

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