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Disney Puts the Tech World En Garde with Touché

Disney is not usually a name associated with cutting-edge technology, but scientists at Disney Research in Pittsburgh are working to put us in touch with the future. As a part of the company’s commercial research branch, the Pittsburgh facility is developing new touch technology that could bring hand and gesture control capabilities to every day objects like tables, couches, doorknobs and even water.

Currently going by the name Touché, the new technology makes use of “swept frequency capacitive sensing,” a step beyond the current touch sensors in use. Most consumers are familiar with the type of sensors seen on smartphones and tablets, which can identify the use of single or multiple fingers through a single frequency. Touché can interpret multiple frequencies, allowing it to discern specific hand grasps, complex finger patterns, and even body position.

Touché can accomplish all this through the use of just a single electric conductor placed inside of an object, so long as it is matched to a sensor controller via a wired or wireless connection. Disney’s researchers gave the example of a living room powered by Touché, where a sofa with an embedded sensor would be able to sense whenever a person sits in the chair, and automatically turn on the television. The sensor can detect specific motions in the sofa as well, meaning that the living room lights could be set to dim automatically when the user sits back on the sofa. Finally, the sofa would be able to detect when the user has fallen asleep, and turn off the TV to save power and reduce noise.

The sensors are not restricted to stationary objects either, as Disney demonstrated. The sensors can also be attached directly to the body, and will be able to detect and transmit information in a similar fashion. An empty palm can be transformed into a controller, with finger movements serving as the buttons, sending data wirelessly to a smartphone or mp3 player via Bluetooth.

Disney’s demonstration video even showed the ability to turn water into a touch surface, by placing a sensor at the bottom of the tank. The Touché technology was able to differentiate between a finger and hand touching the surface, and could detect when an object was completely submerged in the water.

Touché was shown formally on Monday at the Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems in Austin, an event produced by the Association for Computing Machinery’s Special Interest Group on Computer-Human Interaction (ACM SIGCHI).


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