Scientists at Disney Research (yes, that Disney) have developed a proprietary touch-sensing technology called Touché, which could effectively give everyday objects and substances — like doorknobs, walls, or even liquid — advanced touchscreen controls, the basic version of which you typically find on smartphones and tablets. But Touché could give different surfaces the capacity to detect gestures way more complicated than a swipe. The invention is being presented on Monday in Austin at the Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, and has already received a few highly coveted awards. Here, a brief guide to the "mind-blowing" breakthrough:
How does the touch technology work?
Typical touchscreens accept commands using a single electrical frequency, which helps the screen to differentiate between touching or not touching. Touché is different in that it can read complicated configurations over a much wider range of frequencies, so that it can even detect gestures. Different types of touches register distinct electrical signatures, which Disney refers to as a "capacitive profile," says Sebastian Anthony at Extreme Tech. Touching a doorknob with one finger creates a different capacitive profile than gripping it with your whole hand, for example.
And it can even be used on liquid?
Touché only requires a single electrode to function, "which opens the application to any object that can conduct electricity," says John Koetsier at VentureBeat — and that includes electricity-conducting surfaces like furniture, human skin, and even tubs full of water. (Watch a demo below.)
What can Touché be used for?
Imagine a desk that's "all touch-sensitive," says VentureBeat's Koetsier: Using your fingers on a tablet screen might be less precise than a mouse or stylus, but "give your hands the entire surface of your desk to work on, and the results might be beyond our current imagination." Or imagine a couch that automatically flicks on the TV when you sit down, or a doorknob that locks when you tap it. Also consider a smart swimming pool that "detects a young child who can't swim," says Extreme Tech's Anthony. The "possibilities of Touché are almost endless, and really rather exciting."
Take a look:
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- Why the West should let Russia have eastern Ukraine
- The dangers of our passionless American life
- The amazing resurrection of Mitt Romney
- What would a U.S.-Russia war look like?
- Why you should stop believing in evolution
- Even critics of the euro didn't see this coming
- Your literary playlist: A guide to the music of Haruki Murakami
- 4 strategies for organizing your money, based on your personality
- The next pandemic
- The essential techniques that every home cook should know
Subscribe to the Week