Wired - Last we checked in with the wizards over at the Disney Research lab in Pittsburgh, they were showing off computer-controlled air cannons that simulated real-world sensations–clever gizmos that blasted you with air to make it feel like you were saving a soccer ball, say, or being tickled by a butterfly. The team’s latest project is another attempt to bridge that gap between our bodies and the digital worlds we spend so much time poking and prodding. It’s a touchscreen rig that uses electro-vibrations to let you feel the things you’re seeing on your screen.
Imagine running your fingers over the tiles as you’re playing a move in Words with Friends, or getting a sense of the contours of a crockpot you’re about to buy on Amazon, or being able to explore a topographic map by actually experiencing that topography. That’s what Disney’s envisioning. The project is built around the core insight that we perceive variations in an object’s surface by detecting changes in friction on our fingertips. With this in mind, the Disney researchers whipped up an algorithm that takes 3-D geometry–bumps, ridges, textures, protrusions and more–and figures out the voltage necessary to simulate those physical features on a flat display, using nothing more than a series of vibrations. It’s a deft bit of psychophysical trickery that could help future mobile devices become dramatically more interesting to the body parts they’re closest to: our fingertips. Read More