Disney simulates the magic of touch with touchscreen vibration algorithm

Disney touchscreen fossil
Who doesn't want to touch a trilobite?

Disney is not normally at the forefront of technological advancements - unless we're talking about theme parks - but its new technique for "feeling" touch screens sounds pretty magical.

The company's Pittsburgh researchers, including one Dr. Ali Israr, have developed an algorithm that generates "electro-vibration" when a touchscreen user's fingers touch certain points on the display.

When users' fingers land on something that should feel textured, the device emits vibrations, creating the illusion of an object with actual, physical texture.

And because many touchscreen devices already have vibrating feedback motors the system should be easy to implement, according to the researchers.

Good vibrations

The Disney touchscreen technique simulates what it really feels like to touch textured objects, like pineapples, fossils and interactive maps, by recreating that feeling using small vibrations.

Apparently its algorithm creates vibrations that are pretty close to what actually happens when you touch something.

"Our brain perceives the 3D bump on a surface mostly from information that it receives via skin stretching," said Ivan Poupyrev, head of the interaction research group that developed the technology.

The vibrations reportedly stretch the skin of a user's fingertips just enough to make it seem like they're really feeling something.

When it's described like that, it seems obvious - haptic feedback is important, after all. That's why your phone vibrates when you type a letter.

The system is also more versatile than other haptic feedback touchscreen gimmicks, like the Tactus microfluid tech touted last year, because it can "tune tactile effects to a specific visual artifact on the fly," said Israr.


Michael Rougeau

Michael Rougeau is a former freelance news writer for TechRadar. Studying at Goldsmiths, University of London, and Northeastern University, Michael has bylines at Kotaku, 1UP, G4, Complex Magazine, Digital Trends, GamesRadar, GameSpot, IFC, Animal New York, @Gamer, Inside the Magic, Comic Book Resources, Zap2It, TabTimes, GameZone, Cheat Code Central, Gameshark, Gameranx, The Industry, Debonair Mag, Kombo, and others.

Micheal also spent time as the Games Editor for Playboy.com, and was the managing editor at GameSpot before becoming an Animal Care Manager for Wags and Walks.