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Bill Buxton--The Man Who Invented Touch Screen Touch

Posted by: Bruce Nussbaum on October 23, 2009

I went out drinking with Bill Buxton in Providence, RI, at the recent BIF5 conference and we talked about how he was building three canoes based on three Canadian Native People’s styles. The Cree canoe was finished and Buxton did it without any power-tools. Now this is important (I’m connecting dots here so bear with me), because last night at the National Design Awards presentation, the winner of the Interaction Design award, Jeff Han from Perceptive Pixel, ran a little movie showing his inspiration for the big touch screen technology we’re seeing on TV and Tom Cruise movies (moving stuff around on a big screen with hands).

The movie showed Buxton, about 20 years ago, sketching out a touch-screen format on a sheet of paper and asking why do we need a mouse to intermediate between us and a computer? Great question. That question inspired Han who went on to develop his interactive technology and debut it at TED in 2006. It showed up later in the movies with Cruise and then CNN for the Presidential election.

In Providence, I went to a talk by Buxton at Brown and he showed me the next iteration of interactive technology being developed by his scientist friend there. Awesome.

Bourbon. He likes bourbon.

Reader Comments

claude hutcheson

October 27, 2009 5:41 PM

I thought the touch screen was invented in the '70s. "In 1971, the first "touch sensor" was developed by Doctor Sam Hurst (founder of Elographics) while he was an instructor at the University of Kentucky. This sensor called the "Elograph" was patented by The University of Kentucky Research Foundation. The "Elograph" was not transparent like modern touch screens, however, it was a significant milestone in touch screen technology.

In 1974, the first true touch screen incorporating a transparent surface came on the scene developed by Sam Hurst and Elographics. In 1977, Elographics developed and patented five-wire resistive technology, the most popular touch screen technology in use today. On February 24, 1994, the company officially changed its name from Elographics to Elo TouchSystems."

Bill Buxton

October 30, 2009 5:40 PM

Claude, you are right and wrong! So, what we did was publish what appears to be the first paper on multi-touch, work that we did in 1984, and publish in 1985. And while you are correct that Sam Hurst did develop the technology that became the Elographics touch tablet and later, touch screen, he was not the first to develop either, rather, he innovated around one of the technologies that were used. Touch pads and touch screens go back much earlier - which in itself is a fascinating story illustrating the history of technology and innovation. If you are interested in the history of touch, and multi-touch, in particular, feel free to explore, Hope thisis of interest.


November 6, 2009 3:48 PM

when did you invent touch screens?

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Want to stop talking about innovation and learn how to make it work for you? Bruce Nussbaum takes you deep into the latest thinking about innovation and design with daily scoops, provocative perspectives and case studies. Nussbaum is at the center of a global conversation on the growing discipline of innovation and the deepening field of design thinking. Read him to discover what social networking works—and what doesn’t. Discover where service innovation is going and how experience design is shaping up. Learn which schools are graduating the most creative talent and which consulting firms are the hottest. And get his take on what the smartest companies are doing in the U.S., Asia and Europe, far ahead of the pack.

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