Disney’s hoping to put the “touch” in touchscreen by adding tactile sensations that match the images on screen. So, if you touch, say, an apple on the screen, it’ll feel like you’re actually tracing the smooth, rounded surface of an apple.
The technology that makes this possible was developed at Disney’s research division (yes, that’s a thing Disney has) in Pittsburgh. It uses vibrations to simulate bumps, ridges, and other textural features – and, because it’s based on an algorithm, it can be applied to any image rather than just a set of pre-made ones.
“With our algorithm we do not have one or two effects, but a set of controls that make it possible to tune tactile effects to a specific visual artifact on the fly,” creator Dr. Ali Israr told the BBC.
Here’s a brief explanation of how the technology works, from TIME:
Slide your finger over an actual ridge on a real object and your finger and brain can articulate its dimensionality because of the way the skin stretches and constricts as it moves. Disney’s algorithm uses nuanced vibratory feedback to simulate that stretching, thus while whatever image or video is still just pixels lit beneath a translucent screen, what you’re feeling is for all intents and purposes real.
“Our brain perceives the 3D bump on a surface mostly from information that it receives via skin stretching,” said Ivan Poupyrev, who runs Disney Research’s interaction group in Pittsburgh, in a company press release. “Therefore, if we can artificially stretch skin on a finger as it slides on the touch screen, the brain will be fooled into thinking an actual physical bump is on a touch screen even though the touch surface is completely smooth.”
This technology has a ton of potential applications – and I’m not just talking about jazzing up It’s a Small World. This 3D tactile rendering technology could jazz up everything from topographical maps, to pictures of objects, to pictures of topographical maps. Can you imagine having this technology on your tablet? It would take that “10 Cutest Animals of All Time” article you’re reading to a whole new level.
(Plus, as the video mentions, it can allow people to touch things they can’t reach and help the visually impaired safely interact with their immediate surroundings, both of which are very important and useful and no laughing matter.)
So, does anyone want to bet on how long it’ll be before someone finds a way to put Disney’s algorithm on a tablet for porn-related purposes? My guess is they’ve already started.