By James Plafke on October 7, 2013.
Whereas touchscreens are one of the easiest interfaces to manipulate, their biggest downfall is the lack of tactile/haptic feedback. While you don’t need resistance or vibration when scrolling up and down a mobile webpage, tactile feedback would make games, touch keyboards, and a host of other uses much more interesting. In fact, Disney Research’s new tactile feedback algorithm allows you to “feel” virtual 3D objects that are displayed on-screen.
While your first thoughts about feeling objects displayed on a computer screen were likely naughty in nature, Disney is here to tell you that not every virtual fantasy has to be about celebrity butts. Disney’s demo shows off a wide array of applications, such as feeling the craters on the Moon, being able to feel a cactus without worry of drawing blood, or even feeling a delicate fossil or work of art without ruining their integrity. The Pittsburgh branch of Disney Research achieves this through the application of a three-step algorithm.
First, the gradient of the surface of the virtual object must be sussed out so a depth map can be generated. The team notes that this map can be measured with a Kinect, or simply taken from a 3D model. Then, the algorithm determines the frictional force between a user’s finger and touchscreen, and maps it to the gradient created for the virtual model. Finally, thanks to a display capable of electrovibration, different levels of voltage are applied to the virtual object’s gradient, mapped to where a finger is running over the display. This results in simulating the feel of a virtual object.
Aside from providing a way for you to better “interface” with a celebrity, Disney envisions more practical uses for the system. For example, a blind person could carry around a camera-equipped tablet that displays the surrounding environment on its screen. Then, Disney’s algorithm could process the surrounding gradients, and the person could feel the result, getting a better sense of his or her surroundings. The system could also be a useful tool for safer exploration, providing a better sense of the topography of a foreign environment. Furthermore, the system could be used for entertainment purposes, such as being incorporated into touchscreen games, or even adorning the walls of an interactive exhibit in one of Disney’s theme parks. Imagine a touchscreen displaying a live feed hanging in front of animals in a zoo, and you can virtually pet them as they walk by.
Disney states that the algorithm works in real time and is light weight, so it could conceivably be used to apply a physical feeling to a live feed. Hopefully, Disney uses Epcot’s The Seas With Nemo & Friends (formerly and forever known as The Living Seas, to some of us) as a testing ground for the new tech.
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