Disney engineers call it “tactile rendering of 3D features,” a new technology that allows users to feel textures as they slide their fingers on touchscreens.
The basic premise is Disney Researchers in Pittsburgh have created an algorithm that uses electronic pulses to simulate a perception of friction, like the kind a person feels when their finger slides over a bump, on a smooth tablet or smartphone.
Imagine, researchers say, being able to slide a finger across a topographic map on a smart phone and feel the bumps and curves of hills and valleys.
"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 in a press release.
"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."
The genius here is have the "tactile feedback" or simulated friction dynamically change with the content displayed on a tablet or smartphone.
"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," said
Ali Israr, a Disney Research, Pittsburgh research engineer who was the research lead on the project.
As the Washington Post points out, the technology could be an incredible advancement for the blind and disabled.