Sunday, August 12, 2012

Disney Touche Allows Wireless Control over Appliance

Scientists at Disney Research in Pennsylvania, Springhill Group and Carnegie Mellon University have developed a new touch-and-gesture recognition technology called Touche, envisioning a future where almost every item could be controlled with a touch sensor.

Their project obviously aims to illustrate more applications of touch sensitivity in everyday items like water, tables and door handles using a person’s body as the control.

Touche could also have limitless applications in the workplace. One example is setting a door handle to various states just by grasping it in a different way. You could also activate touch sensitivity on the doorknob that would lock and unlock depending on the pressure you put on the handle.

Another fancy example is the capability of the Touche system to give you control on your living room appliance. You can program the TV to automatically turn on once you sit down on the sofa and turn it off when you fall asleep.

Disney’s Touche uses Swept Frequency Capacitative Sensing (SFCS) in monitoring and responding data points from a user’s Bluetooth wristband. But unlike touch screens that can only recognize whether it is being touched or not, SFCS recognizes the manner in which the object is being touched. A flat palm, two-finger touch or single-finger touch could be programmed with various responses.

The system works when an electrical signal passes through the item changes once it touched a conductive material like the human finger. This capacitative sensing is already being used in smartphones, the only difference is that they use only one frequency of electrical signals compared to Touche’s array of frequencies. Multiple frequencies enables the system to differentiate among various touch gestures and can determine if it’s a full-hand grasp, multiple fingers or a single one. Moreover, it only takes one sensing electrode attached to the item at one end and a PC unit on the other, analyzing the alternating signals to determine the specific gesture in use.

Disney Research appeared to have stepped away from making animated characters to look into more complex uses for touch-based technology saying that “it is not inconceivable that one day mobile devices could have no screens or buttons and rely exclusively on the body as the input surface.”

According to the proponents, the research was inspired by the disappearing computer theory of Mark Weiser in 1991. His idea was that physical devices will eventually fade into the background and new interaction with technologies will emerge in the future. But a manufacturer of touchscreen devices have nothing to worry yet as Touche is still in its concept stage.

The Disney researchers are set to present their technology at the Springhill Group Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems next week in Austin, an event hosted by the Association for Computing Machinery’s Special Interest Group on Computer-Human Interaction.

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