Disney Research brings sense of 3D touch to mobile screens

Online shopping is more convenient than going to the mall, but you can’t gauge how things feel before you buy them. A new paper out of Disney Research shows how friction can create an artificial sense of texture, leading a user to feel like they are actually touching an object they see on the screen.

When your finger slides over a bump on an object, its skin stretches due to the friction. The researchers developed an algorithm that allowed them to generate levels of friction that closely matched the friction a finger would feel if it was touching the object on screen in real life.

Disney Research 3D touch

“Our brain perceives the 3D bump on a surface mostly from information that it receives via skin stretching,” said Interaction Group director Ivan Poupyrev in a release. “Therefore, if we can artificially stretch skin on a finger as it slides on the touch screen, the brain will be fooled into thinking an actual physical bump is on a touch screen even though the touch surface is completely smooth.”

The amount of friction changes continuously as a finger slides over the screen, creating a continuous sense of touch. Again, Poupyrev:

“Touch interaction has become the standard for smartphones, tablets and even desktop computers, so designing algorithms that can convert the visual content into believable tactile sensations has immense potential for enriching the user experience. We believe our algorithm will make it possible to render rich tactile information over visual content and that this will lead to new applications for tactile displays.”