• Now You Can Touch Virtual Objects

    Efforts to create virtual reality in video games have been well documented. But what about making virtual objects touchable?

    At Disney Research Labs in Pittsburgh, engineers are doing just that with two separate tactile projects that employ haptic technology. Haptics stimulate touch sensations, making virtual objects feel real.

    The first project is called Aireal (think “air-real”), which delivers tactile air bursts in mid air. These air bursts, created by powerful sound compressions, correspond with virtual balls on a monitor so it feels like the on-screen ball is hitting you when you touch them. Likewise, when you swat the air burst, the on-screen ball is also swatted. All of this is accomplished without a wearable device.

    The second tactile project, called Tesla Touch, allows you to touch objects on your tablet. When you swipe your finger over an image of sand, you can feel the friction of the grains. This is accomplished by exciting an electrode with an electric signal, which

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  • This Microphone Transfers Sound Through Touch

    The telephone game is played all over the world (it's known as Chinese whispers beyond North America). It involves a group sitting in a circle and starts with someone whispering a message into their neighbor's ear.

    The message is then passed around the group until it makes it back to its originator; if the message is still intact, the group wins.

    I can't remember ever taking part in a telephone game where the message wasn't altered in some way. But had I had an "Inshin-Den-Shin" microphone, pictured above, there wouldn't have been a contest.

    Named after a Japanese expression for non-verbal communication, the microphone converts a spoken phrase into an inaudible signal that is relayed through the speaker’s body. When the speaker touches another person’s earlobe, that second person will hear what the speaker said into the microphone.

    So whisper, touch, transmit. It's the telephone game, perfected.

    The microphone was created by the Disney Research Lab in Pittsburgh. The lab conducts

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  • This Plant Makes Music

    The Magic Kingdom is synonymous with Walt Disney World, but that name could easily stand in for Disney Research Pittsburgh, a Disney-owned research facility in -- you guessed it -- Pittsburgh.

    To see why, look no further than one of the lab’s latest creations: a musical plant.

    Called the “Botanicus Interacticus,” this sonorous plant emits a harp-like melody when its petals are touched. How? By placing an electrode in the plant’s soil, engineers can map a hundred different frequencies around the plant.

    When someone sweeps those frequencies by touching the plant, a computer connected to the electrode registers the touch and translates it into musical notes that play out from a speaker. This would also work on any conductive object, including a human being.

    Music just seemed like an appropriate output for this technology, explained Jessica Hodgins, Disney Lab Pittsburgh’s director: “It could be be triggering computer graphics, a light show, or any other kind of signal.”

    Hodgins shrouded

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