Haptic Technology: Disney researchers develop algorithm for 3D tactile features on touch surfaces

If haptic technology is your cup of tea, then a symposium on User Interface Systems and Technology at the University of St. Andrews is the place for you this week.

Scientists from Disney Research and the University of Bristol are going to present two different approaches to adding 3D tactility to touch technology.

Disney researchers have discovered a way to relay a tactile, 3D touch to a flat surfaces. A person can pass their finger over a 3D topographic map and feel the peaks and valleys against their skin as if they are real.

Haptic technology, or haptics, is a tactile feedback technology which takes advantage of the sense of touch by applying forces, vibrations, or motions to the user. This mechanical stimulation can be used to assist in the creation of virtual objects in a computer simulation, to control such virtual objects, and to enhance the remote control of machines and devices.


“Our brain perceives the 3D bump on a surface mostly from information that it receives via skin stretching. 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,” said Ivan Poupyrev, the director of Disney Research, Pittsburgh Interaction Group.

The discovery could make the same interaction possible on touchscreen devices. It can serve as a blessing for the visually impaired people as the technology can help them in getting more independent.

“Touch interaction has become the 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,” said Poupyrev.

“We believe our algorithm will make it possible to render rich tactile information over visual content and that this will lead to new applications for tactile displays.”


Neal Morgan

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