New tech turns plants, bodies into touch screens

Forget touch screens. Think touch everything. A technology developed at Disney Research will bring touch gestures to everyday objects, including plants and your body.

Called Touché, the technology requires you to connect only one wire to an object to make it touch-sensitive.

Capacitive touch sensing is used in most mobile devices today, like smartphones and tablets. It relies on interactions with your body's electrical properties, which is why you can't work your smartphone with regular gloves on. Traditional capacitive touch handles only two states: on (touching) or off.

Touché allows a wider variety of interaction than what is currently offered. The technology is able to detect five different states: no touch, one-finger touch, a pinch, circle and a grasp. When paired with software that knows what to do with these inputs, it allows people to more precisely control devices. For instance, the developer of the technology, Ivan Poupyrev, demonstrated a doorknob equipped with Touché that is able to register how someone is touching it. [See also: New Touch Screen Tech 'Listens' to Your Taps]

Because of its one-wire design and ability to transmit signals wirelessly through Bluetooth, Touché could expand touch navigation well beyond what we do now.

For example, if someone wore the tiny device and had an MP3 player connected via Bluetooth, they could control playback by touching their arm or grasping their wrist. In another example, a connected sofa could turn on a TV when someone sits down.

At a recent New York Tech Meetup, Poupyrev showed how Touché could connect to an orchid, making the flower's stem touch-sensitive. Poupyrev was able to "play" the orchid as he slid his hand along the stem, creating different sounds.

The technology can even add touch sensitivity to liquids. Researchers demonstrated this by attaching a wire under a fish tank — Touché then detects any gesture made in the water inside the tank.

Disney has been developing the technology since 2010, but hasn't deployed it yet. Poupyrev said it may first appear in interactive objects at Disney theme parks.

This story was provided by TechNewsDaily, a sister site to LiveScience.

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