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Disney Develops Way to ‘Feel’ 2D Touchscreen Images

Disney Develops Way to ‘Feel’ 2D Touchscreen Images

If you thought Disney was just a company that makes lots of films and theme parks – think again! Coming a long way from bringing you their first animated feature film in 1937, Disney has now come up with it’s most amazing invention yet: Flat touch screens that help people feel a 2D image in a 3D way!

Disney Research in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, has developed technology they call “tactile rendering of 3D features”. Not the most catchy title, but it’s still in the early stages. The technology allows your brain to be tricked into thinking your fingers are touching the object in the picture on your device, when in all actuality you are sliding your finger along a smooth and shiny touch screen.

Back in 2001, scientists worked out that feeling different textures and surfaces are mostly down to friction. Friction very slightly causes the skin on our fingers to stretch and squeeze depending on the texture or object we are touching.

Using this knowledge, the Disney researchers thought that if they could find a way to artificially stretch and squeeze the skin on our fingers, the frictional forces would be simulated in such a way our brains would be convinced we were touching a completely different object.

The team decided to try electrovibration, which uses static electricity to create tiny shocks between the skin on your fingers and the surface, feeling like small vibrations, thus tensing and stretching the skin.

Adjusting their calculations to make texture maps of images on the touch screen, the researchers were able to simulate the friction usually felt by a finger when touching the real texture. Where you touch part of the object on screen, the electrovibrations pulse in a different way to account for a different texture.

In a press release, Dr Ivan Poupyrev, Research Scientist at Disney Research, said: “Touch interaction has become standard for smartphones, tablets and even desktop computers, so designing algorithms that can convert the visual content into believable tactile sensations has immense potential for enriching the user experience.”

The technology is only in the research phase at the moment, and although it could be a while – maybe years – before it is introduced into our phones and tablets etc, there is massive potential to revolutionise the touch screen industry. In fact, it could revolutionise a lot of industries.

It might not be with us just yet, but those futuristic devices you see on television programmes might not be as far away as you think.

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