17.08.11

Disney tech touches you all over

AUTHOR: Inavate

An immersive tactile technology will enhance virtual reality experiences, providing users with sensations as subtle as a finger being drawn against the skin or as abrasive as the jolt of a collision. The Surround Haptics solution was developed by Disney Research and Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, USA and presented at the Emerging Technology Exhibition, SIGGRAPH 2011.

The technology, presented at the international conference on computer graphics and interactive techniques in Vancouver, is based on rigorous psychophysical experiments and new models of tactile perception.

The demonstration focused on enhancing a high-intensity driving simulator game in collaboration with Disney's Black Rock Studio. Players were seated in a chair that was fitted with inexpensive vibrating actuators. The Surround Haptics enabled them to feel road imperfections and objects falling on the car, sense skidding, braking and acceleration, and experience ripples of sensation when cars collided or jumped and landed.

"Although we have only implemented Surround Haptics with a gaming chair to date, the technology can be easily embedded into clothing, gloves, sports equipment and mobile computing devices," said Ivan Poupyrev, senior research scientist at DRP, who invented and developed Surround Haptics with colleague Ali Israr. "This technology has the capability of enhancing the perception of flying or falling, of shrinking or growing, of feeling bugs creeping on your skin. The possibilities are endless."

The DRP researchers designed an algorithm for controlling an array of vibrating actuators in such a way as to create "virtual actuators" anywhere within the grid of actuators. A virtual actuator, Poupyrev said, can be created between any two physical actuators; the user has the illusion of feeling only the virtual actuator.

As a result, users don't feel the general buzzing or pulsing typical of most haptic devices today, but can feel discrete, continuous motions such as a finger tracing a pattern on skin.

The phenomenon of phantom sensations created by actuators has been known for more than 50 years, but its use in tactile displays has been limited because of an incomplete understanding of control mechanisms. DRP researchers were able to develop their control algorithm by systematically measuring users' ability to feel physical actuators vs. virtual actuators under a variety of stimulation levels. They then developed control models that were validated by further psychophysical experiments.

The researchers suggest that in addition to enhancing user experiences with interactive games, movies and music, Surround Haptics' underlying technology could provide new tactile means of communication for the blind, emergency workers, vehicle operators, athletes and others.