One of the main reasons Apple changed the phone industry was with their roll out of a multi-touch capacitive touch screen phone, the iPhone 2G.  The multi-touch display on the iPhone and iPad allows users to use pinch to zoom functionality, along with a whole host of other gestures.  Basically, when you see someone “flicking” their iPhone or iPad screen – thank the muti-touch display for enabling this.

Other companies have quickly followed suit with multi-touch displays, and currently there are tens of millions of devices that utilize them.  Over time, the use of these gestures adds up – and yet with millions of multi-touch users, no one knows the musculoskeletal side effects these gestures could potentially produce.  A team of researchers hopes to change this lack of knowledge.

Dr. Kanav Kahol, an assistant professor in ASU’s Department of Biomedical Informatics, is leading a team of researchers from Arizona State and Harvard with the goal of studying potential side effects of multi-touch displays, and how these systems can be designed to cause the least amount of musculoskeletal harm.  They have a $1.2 million grant from the National Science Foundation for their research.

The team will be using cyber gloves (picture), EMG equipment, and other devices to quantify the amount of strain gestures from multi-touch displays produce on the hands and wrists.  In the picture they are studying the iPad, but they plan on studying multiple devices.  Dr. Kahol hopes to show this data to Microsoft, Apple, and other companies so they can modify and refine their multi-touch gestures accordingly.

From the original article:

Kahol said that the last time designers developed a fundamental interaction system with computers they modified the standard keyboard. While it was useful, it was not without its share of drawbacks.

“When we developed the keyboard, we didn’t think through how working with it would affect the hands, arms, etc.,” Kahol said. “As a result, it created a multimillion dollar industry in treating carpal tunnel syndrome. That is what we want to prevent with multi-touch systems.

“We are going for the preventative, rather than the curative,” he added.