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Disney Researchers Add Virtual Touch to the Real World

August 10, 2012 | William Zimmerman
Disney researchers combined their technology with a surface display (credit: Disney Research)

New computer interface can modify the feel of almost any surface, adding a possible new dimension to games and augmented reality apps

Researchers at Disney  demonstrated a computer interface at Siggraph 2012 that changes the way ordinary objects feel, using a weak electric signal fed through a user's entire body, Technology Review reports.

Wearable technology modifies a user's tactile perception of the physical world without requiring him/her 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.

Reverse electrovibration (REVEL)

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. When touching a physical object, such as a tablet screen, that shares a common electrical ground with the REVEL signal generator, an electrostatic force modulates the friction between the sliding finger and the object to create the sensation of a texture.

By tracking the objects that a person is touching, an interface could combine augmented reality imagery, on a smartphone or tablet screen, with virtual tactile sensations provided by the REVEL device.

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