What if we could feel the texture of the things we see on our smartphones and tablets? Disney Research’s latest project suggests that tactile rendering of 3D features on touch surfaces is indeed possible.
The current project is based on many years of research in the haptic feedback field. The idea behind it might look futuristic, but Disney Research proved that it is as real as it gets. It might take a while till we get to see touchscreens featuring a technology that enables us to feel the texture of objects found under the glass, but still, it’s very important that the first steps have been made. Disney Research isn’t exactly the only one interested in this field. Senseg, a Helsinki-based startup, demoed a prototype haptic tablet back in 2011. One year before that, however, Disney Research had unveiled TeslaTouch, a haptic touchscreen that gave feedback a new dimension.
In the press release that announced Disney Research’s new project, Ali Israr stated: “The traditional approach to tactile feedback is to have a library of canned effects that are played back whenever a particular interaction occurs. 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.”
Among the textures that can be felt on the touchscreen are ridges, edges, protrusions, bumps and any combination of the aforementioned textures. As it might be difficult to believe such a thing, the researchers demonstrated how this works in a video (we still have to take their words for granted, but this is still some kind of proof). The perceived friction depends very much on the voltage of the touchscreen, so the researchers figured out that they can simulate various texture by modifying the voltage. Interaction is possible both with static pictures and video. When analyzing a map on a touchscreen, for example, users are able to tell that certain areas have a different depth. Needless to say, this could prove useful for visually impaired individuals, as the tactile feedback could help them better understand things.
It will be interesting to see the direction this project will be headed. I hope that Disney Research has plans of implement its discoveries into project we’ll get to use in the not-so-distant future.