Disney Research, responsible for futuristic feedback systems like an earlobe speaker and a touch sensor that can work on water, is working on a new way to let people feel what’s on their screens. The group will soon release a paper describing how to turn geometric figures on a touchscreen into simulated textures that users can run their hands across. In a demo video, researchers describe using it to feel the ridges on a map or examine objects that are behind glass. If the examples are any indication, you can do anything from “touch” an apple on a tablet to feel a jellyfish float across your screen.
Disney is following years of work on haptic feedback here. Our sense of touch is partly a function of friction-detecting receptors, and previous research has shown that by manipulating those receptors, you can trick the brain into feeling texture on a flat surface. Disney’s touchscreen uses a display that can generate electrostatic force at varying voltages, creating a weak field that simulates different levels of friction. If that technology sounds familiar, it may be because it’s also used by Senseg, which created a prototype haptic tablet two years ago. Disney Research is also no stranger to the idea; in 2010, a haptic touchscreen was demoed under the name “TeslaTouch.”
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