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‘Mum, the cactus on TV just pricked me’

Burbank (CALIFORNIA) — Forget 3DTV, Disney wants to bring the world Texture TV.

Burbank (CALIFORNIA) — Forget 3DTV, Disney wants to bring the world Texture TV.

Researchers at the company have developed technology that simulates textures on a flat screen to allow viewers to feel what they are watching.

It means that users could feel objects and textures while they look at an image or watch a movie on a screen like a mobile phone or tablet.

Disney has also been testing the technology on larger screens and it could even be used to create a new generation of “textured” television that could enhance its movies.

Dr Ivan Poupyrev, Director of the Interaction Group at Disney Research in Pittsburgh, said: “Touch interaction has become the standard for smartphones, tablets and even desktop computers, so designing algorithms that can convert the visual content into believable tactile sensations has immense potential for enriching the user experience.

“We believe our algorithm will make it possible to render rich tactile information over visual content and that this will lead to new applications for tactile displays.”

The technology, which the researchers are presenting at this week’s Symposium on User Interface Software and Technology in St Andrews, Fife, in Scotland, attempts to recreate the sensation of friction between a surface and a fingertip.

The researchers found that they can create the perception of an edge, bump, ridge and protrusions by exploiting the way the skin moves when feeling real-life physical objects.

Textures cause the skin of the fingertip to stretch and compress as it slides over an object, creating the sensations that tell our brain about what we are touching.

Disney says it can simulate this effect by applying an electrical field across a flat screen, which creates friction through electrostatic forces on the skin when a finger is dragged across it.

By changing the strength of the electrostatic force, they say they can alter the friction to produce different textures without having to physically vibrate the screen.

“Our brain perceives the 3D bump on a surface mostly from information that it receives via skin stretching,” said Dr Poupyrev.

“Therefore, if we 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 screen even though it is smooth.”

Disney Research has been conducting extensive research into using touch and physical feedback to enhance a viewer’s experience — such as a chair that produces the sensation of being in a vehicle or a chill down the spine as users play a game or watch a movie.

Disney believes its latest texture simulator could be used to help people feel their way around maps by creating the bumps and curves of hills and valleys.

It can also recreate the spines of a cactus or the hard smooth contours of a kettle. It also says textures could be created on images projected onto a screen, although this is unlikely to be something that will be encouraged in cinemas.

However, the system could also be used to help give the visually impaired information about their surroundings using the camera on a device such as an iPad.

Mr Ali Israr, an engineer at Disney Research who has led the project, added: “The traditional approach to tactile feedback is to have a library of canned effects that are played back whenever a particular interaction occurs.

“This makes it difficult to create a tactile feedback for dynamic visual content, where the size and orientation of features constantly change.

“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 artefact on the fly.”


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