Touch Screen of the Future: The Ability to Feel Things On-Screen

Imagine being able to feel what you see on a tablet or smartphone screen instead of smooth glass. Disney's working on it.

Touch Screen of the Future: The Ability to Feel Things On-Screen Photo (cc) by madrakas

Disney wants to give touch screen new meaning — a screen that doesn’t feel like one.

Its engineers are working on a technology called “tactile rendering of 3-D features,” The Washington Post says. It would allow users to physically feel what is depicted on the screen, whether it’s a still image or a moving video.

The screen (an “electrovibration-based display”) stays flat, but the device it sits on maps the contours within the image and then tweaks the voltage it sends out, according to a Disney video explaining the research. This can create a sensation of “ridges, edges, protrusions, bumps, and any combination of these textures,” the video says.

“Scientists have known since 2001 that friction is the predominant force that lets you perceive textures,” the Post says, and changing the voltage changes the friction our fingers perceive. Here’s the video, which gets a bit technical but will give you a better idea of what’s going on:

Disney and the Post both talk about potential uses for this technology, including:

  • Feeling depth and elevation on maps.
  • Feeling surfaces and shapes of 3-D renderings.
  • Using live video to explore surfaces that are normally unsafe to touch (like a cactus or jellyfish).
  • Helping blind people learn and navigate their surroundings. (Could it also create digital Braille?)
  • Feeling products while you’re shopping online.

“It could be years before any genuinely 3-D tablets hit the marketplace,” the Post says. But what do you think of this technology? Can you think of other uses for it? Let us know on Facebook.

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