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News Link • Techno Gadgets

Disney Researchers Add Virtual Touch to the Real World

• Michael Fitzpatrick

Researchers at Disney have demonstrated a computer interface that changes the way ordinary, everyday objects feel using a weak electric signal fed through a user's entire body.

Revealed at the Siggraph 2012 conference in Los Angeles this weekend, wearable technology modifies a user's tactile perception of the physical world without requiring him to wear special gloves or use a force-feedback device. Sensations can be induced when the wearer touches a computer screen, walls, furniture, plastic or wooden objects, even other people.

Computer interface research has accelerated in recent years as hardware has become cheaper and software more sophisticated. This research has led to new products, including multitouch screens (see "iPhone-Style Touch on a Giant Screen"), motion-sensing devices (see "Microsoft Kinect" and "Gestural Interfaces"), and glasses-free 3-D displays (see "A Glimpse of Glasses-Free 3-D"). One area of growing interest is touch, or haptics, although this normally involves having users interact with a specialized device, and it has so far seen limited commercial application (see "The Slow Rise of the Robot Surgeon").
 The Disney interface exploits a tactile effect known as "reverse electrovibration," and has been dubbed REVEL. An imperceptible electrical signal is introduced across the user's whole body to create an oscillating electrostatic field around the skin.

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