In what at first glance might seem a bit out of their field of expertise, Disney has unveiled new research which allows them to simulate “tactile rendering of 3D features” on a touchscreen. In layman’s terms, this means that they have developed the ability for a person to feel things like bumps when they slide their finger across a flat screen.
The algorithm was developed by Disney Research, a little-known arm of the Disney Company. Disney Research is a network of research labs which launched in 2008 with a goal of developing new technologies for use in the varied pursuits of the entertainment company.
The new tactile rendering algorithm could likely be quickly utilized in locations such as the Disney theme parks. However, the new technology also has much broader possibilities.
For example, the visually impaired could eventually “read” a book on a touchscreen using the Braille system. The algorithm could simulate the bumps of the Braille system on the screen and change those bumps as the reader passed his or her fingers over the letters.
The complete press release from Disney Research is offered below:
Disney Research, Pittsburgh, Develops Algorithm
For Rendering 3D Tactile Features on Touch Surfaces
Controlling Friction Forces on Fingertips Creates 3D Haptic Effects
A person sliding a finger across a topographic map displayed on a touch screen can feel the bumps and curves of hills and valleys, despite the screen’s smooth surface, with the aid of a novel algorithm created by Disney Research, Pittsburgh for tactile rendering of 3D features and textures.
By altering the friction encountered as a person’s fingertip glides across a surface, the Disney algorithm can create a perception of a 3D bump on a touch surface without having to physically move the surface. The method can be used to simulate the feel of a wide variety of objects and textures.
The algorithm is based on a discovery that when a person slides a finger over a real physical bump, the person perceives the bump largely because lateral friction forces stretch and compress skin on the sliding finger.
“Our brain perceives the 3D bump on a surface mostly from information that it receives via skin stretching,” said Ivan Poupyrev, who directs Disney Research, Pittsburgh’s Interaction Group. “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”
Disney Research, Pittsburgh researchers will present their findings at the ACM Symposium on User Interface Software and Technology, Oct. 8-11, in St Andrews, Scotland.
In their experiments, the Disney researchers used electrovibration to modulate the friction between the sliding finger and the touch surface with electrostatic forces. Researchers created and validated a psychophysical model that closely simulates friction forces perceived by the human finger when it slides over a real bump.
The model was then incorporated into an algorithm that dynamically modulates the frictional forces on a sliding finger so that they match the tactile properties of the visual content displayed on the touch screen along the finger’s path. A broad variety of visual artifacts thus can be dynamically enhanced with tactile feedback that adjusts as the visual display changes.
“The traditional approach to tactile feedback is to have a library of canned effects that are played back whenever a particular interaction occurs,” said Ali Israr, a Disney Research, Pittsburgh research engineer who was the research lead on the project. “This makes it difficult to create a tactile feedback for dynamic visual content, where the sizes and orientation of features constantly change. 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.”
“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,” Poupyrev said. “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.”
In addition to Poupyrev and Israr, the research team included Seung-Chan Kim, a Disney Research, Pittsburgh intern and a PhD student at KAIST in Daejeon, South Korea. More information, including a video, is available on the project web site, http://www.disneyresearch .com/project/3d-touch-surfaces/.
About Disney Research
Disney Research (www.disneyresearch .com) is a network of research laboratories supporting The Walt Disney Company. It’s purpose is to pursue scientific and technological innovation to advance the company’s broad media and entertainment efforts. Disney Research is managed by an internal Disney Research Council co- chaired by Disney-Pixar’s Ed Catmull and Walt Disney Imagineering’s Bruce Vaughn, and including the Directors of the individual labs. It has facilities in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Pittsburgh, Boston and Zürich. Research topics include computer graphics, video processing, computer vision, robotics, radio and antennas, wireless communications, human-computer interaction, displays, data mining, machine learning and behavioral sciences.