07.05.12

It's not what you touch, it's how you touch it

Conventional touchscreens could be on the way out as a team at Disney Research in Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University develop a technique that recognises how an object is being touched. Touché is based on capacitive touch sensing but monitors capacitive signals across a broad range of frequencies to recognise subtleties in different ways objects can be touched.

The technique is called Swept Frequency Capacitive Sensing (SFCS) and researchers say it can enhance everyday objects by using just a single sensing electrode. Sometimes, as in the case of a doorknob or other conductive objects, the object itself can serve as a sensor and no modifications are required. Even the human body or a body of water can be a sensor.

"Signal frequency sweeps have been used for decades in wireless communication, but as far as we know, nobody previously has attempted to apply this technique to touch interaction," said Ivan Poupyrev, senior research scientist at Disney Research, Pittsburgh. "Yet, in our laboratory experiments, we were able to enhance a broad variety of objects with high-fidelity touch sensitivity. When combined with gesture recognition techniques, Touché demonstrated recognition rates approaching 100 percent. That suggests it could immediately be used to create new and exciting ways for people to interact with objects and the world at large."

"Devices keep getting smaller and increasingly are embedded throughout the environment, which has made it necessary for us to find ways to control or interact with them, and that is where Touché could really shine," said Chris Harrison, a Ph.D. student in Carnegie Mellon's Human-Computer Interaction Institute.

Munehiko Sato, a Disney intern and a Ph.D. student in engineering at the University of Tokyo said Touché could make computer interfaces as invisible to users as the embedded computers themselves. "This might enable us to one day do away with keyboards, mice and perhaps even conventional touchscreens for many applications," he said.