Public Release: 

Tactile technology guaranteed to send shivers down your spine

Surround haptics exploits phantom sensations and other tactile illusions

Carnegie Mellon University

PITTSBURGH--A new tactile technology developed at Disney Research, Pittsburgh (DRP), called Surround Haptics, makes it possible for video game players and film viewers to feel a wide variety of sensations, from the smoothness of a finger being drawn against skin to the jolt of a collision.

The technology is based on rigorous psychophysical experiments and new models of tactile perception. Disney will demonstrate Surround Haptics Aug. 7-11 at the Emerging Technology Exhibition at SIGGRAPH 2011, the International Conference on Computer Graphics and Interactive Techniques in Vancouver.

In the demonstration developed in collaboration with Carnegie Mellon University and others, the technology will enhance a high-intensity driving simulator game in collaboration with Disney's Black Rock Studio. With players seated in a chair outfitted with inexpensive vibrating actuators, Surround Haptics will enable them to feel road imperfections and objects falling on the car, sense skidding, braking and acceleration, and experience ripples of sensation when cars collide or jump and land.

"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 Ali Israr, also of DRP. "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 have accomplished this feat by designing 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.

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

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The SIGGRAPH demonstration of Surround Haptics was developed in collaboration with Kenny Mitchell and Huw Bowles of Disney's Black Rock Studio; Neil Hutchinson of Roundcube Entertainment Ltd; Christopher Ioffreda, an undergraduate in Carnegie Mellon's School of Design who is a Disney lab associate; Mark Baskinger, CMU associate professor of design; Seung-Chan Kim a Ph.D. student in the Korean Advanced Institute of Science and Technology who is interning at the Disney lab; and Jan Stec, a recent graduate of CMU's Entertainment Technology Center who interned at the Disney lab.

About Carnegie Mellon University: Carnegie Mellon (www.cmu.edu) is a private, internationally ranked research university with programs in areas ranging from science, technology and business, to public policy, the humanities and the arts. More than 11,000 students in the university's seven schools and colleges benefit from a small student-to-faculty ratio and an education characterized by its focus on creating and implementing solutions for real problems, interdisciplinary collaboration and innovation. A global university, Carnegie Mellon's main campus in the United States is in Pittsburgh, Pa. It has campuses in California's Silicon Valley and Qatar, and programs in Asia, Australia, Europe and Mexico. The university is in the midst of a $1 billion fundraising campaign, titled "Inspire Innovation: The Campaign for Carnegie Mellon University," which aims to build its endowment, support faculty, students and innovative research, and enhance the physical campus with equipment and facility improvements.

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