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Displays Input Devices Science Technology

Disney Research Can Turn Nearly Any Surface Into a Touch Screen 96

surewouldoutlaw writes "Remember that scene in Fantasia where Mickey turns all the brooms into an army of workers? Well, Disney isn't quite there, yet. But scientists with the company's research lab at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh have been able to turn virtually any surface, including liquid water and the human body, into a multi-touch interface. The new system is called Touché, and it is as awesome as it sounds."
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Disney Research Can Turn Nearly Any Surface Into a Touch Screen

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 10, 2012 @01:49PM (#39957153)

    No baby! Honest it's a touch screen. Try it out.. Yeah.. You just have to rub a little harder.. Harder!

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Is this a joke? Because I was thinking I'd see some cool video, and instead, I saw some sort of Pavlovian training of children to eat cereal with a spoon, and not chopsticks. WTF?

    • by tom17 ( 659054 )

      Yeah I had to come here and comment at that point. I know it's just an example, but it's a damn bad one lol.

      Why not just say "Use the spoon for your cereal, Son"?

      • Or maybe not leave the chopsticks out at breakfast? I'm just sayin'...
        • by tom17 ( 659054 )

          It's actually quite telling that Disney thinks this would be a good example of how to train a child.

          Makes you wonder what horrific pavlonion subliminal messages are in the films they make...

        • Or maybe not leave the chopsticks out at breakfast? I'm just sayin'...

          Here in Japan, chopsticks are commonly used for eating breakfast ( we do love our white rice three times a day). But if my son wanted to try to eat his cereals with chopsticks, I'd just say;
          -Go for it son!
          But remember you have to be in school in 15 minutes.
          If he was a toddler I'd just let him play till he tired of it.
          I don't now enough on training mentally handicapped children to know if this may be useful to them, but that is about the only scenario that I can think of.
          Except for the crappy exa

      • You beat me to it. That was my first thought. The overly complicated doorknob and the tv that would turn off if you slump too much also seemed like overwrought solutions to nonexistent problems.

        Still, as a switch for something in an amusement park, the technology did seem pretty promising.
    • I think this may be more for food prep. Sometimes people will use their hands when they are supposed to use a spoon, thus contaminated the food. T t could be used to help enforce proper handling of food in food service industries.
    • Almost all of their real world examples were poor. Sitting on the couch turns the tv on, so if I stand up to go to the kitchen, it'll shut off? It knows I fell asleep because my arm rolled onto the couch? Or "lock the door" by closing it with your whole hand, but use just a single finger to "shut the door and not lock it"
      tap on the wrist to change the channel, act like you are praying to turn the iPod on.
      These were the best ideas they could come up with?
  • by Sprite_tm ( 1094071 ) * on Thursday May 10, 2012 @01:57PM (#39957281)

    The device can detect the _way_ tou touch it (one finger, complete hand, ...) but not _where_ you touch it, so it's not a touchscreen per se, more of a more-intelligent touch switch. I admire the way they made it from fairly simple components: I built my own prototype working in the same fashion in about one evening after reading their docs: []

  • by SuperKendall ( 25149 ) on Thursday May 10, 2012 @01:58PM (#39957305)

    The technology is cool and all, but a touch "screen" detects where you are touching it - this detects only that you are touching an object, not where (though as shown it does detect how it's being touched).

    The examples they give are pretty contrived but I'm sure there could be some good uses that come from it. One I can think of right away would be making current touch lamp switches more accurate, right now you just turn them on/off if you brush against them. It would be nicer if they needed a grasp or multiple fingers to turn them on/off.

    It has the same problem as all gesture based systems though, the difficulty of discovering what the interface does... even touch controlled lamps have that issue, people can spend a while looking for a switch before they figure out they can just touch the body of the lamp.

    • One I can think of right away would be making current touch lamp switches more accurate, right now you just turn them on/off if you brush against them. It would be nicer if they needed a grasp or multiple fingers to turn them on/off.

      Even better would be if you could "CLAP ON" and "CLAP OFF" the lights.

    • this detects only that you are touching an object, not where

      Seems like that would be pretty easy to add with some sort of capacitive (or possibly even resistive) gradient mesh overlaid on top of the surface you wanted to turn into a touchscreen. A touch in one location would then generate a different frequency response than a touch in a different location. If the mesh has orthogonal signal gradient curves along orthogonal physical axes, you can get 2D and 3D touch location data.

      Unlike a regular touchscreen, you could reverse the mesh and add it to the object do

  • Am I the only one who smiled when the video was demonstrating pinching, grasping and touching which seemingly looked like a nipple
  • Sounds a little mickey mouse to me....

    • by Creepy ( 93888 )

      it will be Mickey Mouse when they apply the Sonny Bono copyright act (aka the "Mickey Mouse law") to patents to protect this.

  • Doesn't the name "touch screen" imply a display?
  • by avandesande ( 143899 ) on Thursday May 10, 2012 @02:01PM (#39957361) Journal

    Disney walking brooms is to touchscreens ?

  • IBM used to had a touchscreen monitor that used pressure sensors in the base to determine where the screen was being pressed.

  • Is this how the Virgin Alarm in Spaceballs worked?
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Sorry, but with a statement like "The new system is called Touché, and it is as awesome as it sounds.", they damn well better be saying that with a french accent, otherwise it just sounds a whole helluva lot like "douche"... so the 'awesomeness' of how it sounds can be two entirely different extremes here.

  • by Rogerborg ( 306625 ) on Thursday May 10, 2012 @02:13PM (#39957505) Homepage
    Finally, an interface that lets us turn women on.
    • by Shoten ( 260439 )

      Finally, an interface that lets us turn women on.

      I think the real market would be for an interface that lets us mute them at times.

  • I have been waiting for this kind of thing for decades. I mean, ffs, it's the new millenium, past 2010 even, and we don't have replicants or HAL9000 computers or flying cars or hotels orbiting Jupiter. We don't even have a moonbase or space elevator to help get us there. No affordable household robots or holodecks or brain recording and playback devices. No ubiquitous true 3D hologram devices. No affordable head mounted displays for VR. It just doesn't feel like the future yet.

    But this technology is more li

    • by jd2112 ( 1535857 )
      Doesn't the Roomba count as an affordable household robot?
      • I tried one in my living/dining area. It got stuck under the dining room table amongst the chair/table legs, and it got hung up on the living room rug.

        • I tried one in my living/dining area. It got stuck under the dining room table amongst the chair/table legs, and it got hung up on the living room rug.

          So does mine, but that doesn't mean it's not worth it to move the chairs and police up the stuff it gets stuck on.

          Overall, our carpets have been vacuumed a whole lot more with the Roomba than without.

    • by Creepy ( 93888 )

      My first thought was we can make ST:TNG communicators with this. The first thought of the rest of the pervs here seems to indicate it should apply to some sort of sex toy - at least yours wasn't ;)

      • I guess Apple made an affordable tricorder, so a communicator is the next obvious step... it could even be a bluetooth device!

      • How does this have anything to do with TNG communicators? They didn't have different do different things based on how you touched them as far as I can recall.

    • by geekoid ( 135745 )

      Of course we have that stuff. remember when we built the forget ray so the stupid people wouldn't.. ohhh

    • Actually, it made perfect sense to me that Disney would do something like this. I was just in Disney World and they have this new game that people can play. You get "spell cards" and walk up to a designated spot. Suddenly, a portal "appears" and you use the spell cards to fight Disney villains. There's an overarching story to this, but the relevant part is that these "portals" seem to appear out of spots that otherwise look normal.

      Disney has also worked on costumed characters that can speak with the cha

  • I would think the downfall of a system like this is that it would require user training for each and every gesture. Certainly, humans of different ages and hand sizes would have different capacitive properties to their hands. I'm sure other factors like body hair, perspiration, skin tone or texture, etc. probably have some affect.

    If training WASN'T required, I could see Disney using this in their theme parks. Especially in the little kids rides and houses in Mickey's Toon Town. Imagine the surprise on y

  • by alphax45 ( 675119 ) <> on Thursday May 10, 2012 @02:28PM (#39957709)
    I think the most interesting part of this article for me is that Disney has a research arm. I didn't know or even think about that before seeing this. I took a look at the site and it seems like they do some cool stuff. They have locations near some major universities and in Zurich. Seems like it would be a good place to work.
    • Disney's had a decent research arm for years. See: []
      (Yes, they bought a bunch of researchy stuff from Apple in '96, when Apple was selling things off to avoid bankruptcy).

    • I take it you've never been to Disney World. The rides they create aren't simple roller coasters. It's an entire experience involving lots of technology. At one time, it was all about animatronics that looked as real as possible. Now, it's more about computer projections either mixing with real life or being generated in real-time.

  • The article says nothing about how they trained their software. Is it person-specific? I suspect that the sensor response from different people gripping the same doorknob can be quite different. Same due to sweating, dehydration, dirty hands, etc.
    "Check out our new touch-recognizing doorknob! Training times may vary. We don't advise to put it on the bathroom door for at least a week after the purchase."
  • I so want this so I can turn my kitchen table into a giant touchscreen for D&D games! Would make the battles soooooooooooooo much faster!

    • by Guidii ( 686867 )
      Hmmm. I don't think the sensor described here would work for you, because it doesn't detect where the touches happen.

      I've been building an FTIR [] based tabletop for my D&D games....
  • by anom ( 809433 ) on Thursday May 10, 2012 @02:38PM (#39957833)

    So somebody else correct me if I'm wrong here, but on a dramatic number of their demonstrations it looked like they didn't have much more data than the amount my which their curve was shifted -- only in a few instances did it really change shape dramatically.

    Moreover, it appeared as if the amount of the shift of the curve was directly proportional to how much the object was being touched. Part of me wonders if they were really essentially calibrating these "gestures" based upon the amount of contact with the device in question. E.g., two fingers will of course result in more contact than one, but less than an entire palm. The whole "we can detect how the object is being grasped" thing seemed contrived.

    Not that it wasn't cool -- there are definitely uses for this -- but it doesn't seem to me like they're getting quite as much data as they seem to be implying.

    • Yes, it is still detecting capacitance, and surface area is the primary factor. So theoretically a large amount of contact with one finger might look like two fingers. Note that they only demonstrate 1, 2, 5.

  • Neither the author nor the submitter RTFA when they developed the title - it clearly states that surfaces must be conductive, which is an awfully long way from "anything". The article even mentions smart couches, but then goes on to say saying workarounds are required - non-conductive items must be coated with something conductive.

    Stupid non-tech journalists writing tech articles.

  • But you can bet your bottom dollar that those gestures are being patented right now... "A method of unlocking a door based on gesture recognition", "A method of xxxxxxx using gesture recognition"

    The real patentable thing here is the multi-frequency touch sensor itself... the uses that spring from it should not be patentable...

  • I can just see someone writing don't touch this onto a wet surface and every fool and his dog touching it!!!
  • ... just got a whole new meaning.
  • Mickey created just the one "broom golem." But then he found there was no way to stop it. So, he tried chopping it up. Then the pieces of the the broom turned into an army of "Broom Golems" that he still couldn't control.

    It was all quite horrifying really... not something you'd want to replicate in real life...

    Well, I mean I would, but that's because I'm quite mad, you see... hahaha... hehe... HAHAHAHA...

"I don't believe in sweeping social change being manifested by one person, unless he has an atomic weapon." -- Howard Chaykin