Pet a jellyfish on your iPad with Disney’s touch tech

By Casey Frye, CCNN Writer

Disney touch tech
If you were running your finger along the picture on the top, the electricity generated would be like the image on the bottom. See how the different grooves match?

Disney researchers are really on a gadget-making roll this year. Not too long ago, they created an awesome microphone that lets you whisper into someone’s ear by touching their skin! Then, earlier this week, the team revealed paper that generates electricity when a hand taps on it. Now, the engineers have invented a technique that lets you feel objects on a touchscreen, such as jellyfish and apples!

What the heck? I’m pretty sure the touchscreens on most devices are completely flat (besides LG’s bendy one), so how did they pull that off? The process, it turns out, is pretty… shocking…

You know how we can usually feel the grooves and bumps on different objects? That’s because our fingers are really sensitive to friction (when two objects run against one another). Well, Disney researchers managed to recreate that feeling on a touchscreen by simply using electricity!

So, say a person is looking at a picture of a bug and decides to run their finger along its bumpy back. The invention detects where the finger is located while measuring the different textures on the picture. A special algorithm (a formula that solves a problem) then changes voltage (electrical strength) as the human hand runs along the screen, making it feel like real friction!

“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. “Therefore, if we can artificially stretch skin on a finger as it slides on the touchscreen, the brain will be fooled into thinking an actual physical bump is on a touchscreen even though the touch surface is completely smooth.”

The technology won’t be some boring program that comes with a few measly stock images, either. According to the researchers, it can let you feel anything you look at on the device, even if it’s a live video being recorded through the camera! Pretty cool, huh?

Images courtesy of Disney Research.