Touché Teaches Objects To Sense Your Touch

Researchers at Disney and Carnegie Mellon University have created an interesting new technology using Swept Frequency Capacitive Sensing that allows nearly any object to sense multiple points of contact on its complex service. This would allow, for example, doorknobs to understand when to lock and unlock based on your finger position and environmental controls based on the user’s current body position. Lying down? The lights go out. Feet on the floor? The lights go up.

The technology, built jointly by CMU and the Disney Research Institute in Pittsburgh, Penn., can also add more interesting interaction to smartphones. Even bodies of water can turn into “touchscreens”, with your position inside the liquid registering as a touch event.

“When combined with gesture recognition techniques, Touché demonstrated recognition rates approaching 100 percent. That suggests it could immediately be used to create new and exciting ways for people to interact with objects and the world at large,” said Ivan Poupyrev, senior research scientist at Disney Research.

Quoth the release:

By monitoring a range of signal frequencies, however, Touché can derive much more information. Different body tissues have different capacitive properties, so monitoring a range of frequencies can detect a number of different paths that the electrical charge takes through the body.
Making sense of all of that SFCS information, however, requires analyzing hundreds of data points. As microprocessors have become steadily faster and less expensive, it now is feasible to use SFCS in touch interfaces, the researchers said.In another proof-of-concept experiment, they showed that SFCS could enhance a traditional touchscreen by sensing not just the fingertip, but the configuration of the rest of the hand. They created the equivalent of a mouse “right click,” zoom in/out and copy/paste functions depending on whether the user pinched the phone’s screen and back with one finger or two, or used a thumb.

You can also sense hand position using the technology, allowing users to mute cellphones by covering their ears. I suspect future implementations in toys of all varieties will scare the heck out of us all.