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Disney research adds 3D sensations to flat touchscreens

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A Disney Research project unveiled this week attempts to recreate the feeling of touching a real object based on images displayed on a touchscreen, according to a recently published paper.

Pittsburgh-based researchers developed an algorithm that uses haptic feedback to make a smooth surface simulate the feeling of objects, bumps, ridges and textures. The paper, "Tactile Rendering of 3D Features on Touch Surfaces," outlines the science that underlies the technology.

"Our brain perceives the 3D bump on a surface mostly from information that it receives via skin stretching," said Ivan Poupyrev, who directs Disney Research, Pittsburgh's Interaction Group. "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."

Check out the video above to see it in action. Its inventors are currently presenting the technology at the ACM Symposium on User Interface Software and Technology in St. Andrews, Scotland.

This invention is the latest in a series of Disney Research projects, including a robot that can throw and catch using Kinect, a device that turns turns any material into a touchscreen and a project that turns photographs into 3D models.