Augmented reality is the enhancement of elements of the real world environment with computer-generated sensory input. Up until now, augmented reality technologies have focused primarily on visual and audio feedback to augment the users’ experiences. Researchers at Disney Research in Pittsburgh, however, have developed a way to create augmented tactile sensations, making it possible to change the feel of real world surfaces.
The technology is called Revel, and it works without a special glove or force-feedback device. It actually uses a newly discovered marvel called “reverse electrovibration” that pulses a weak electrical signal that creates an electrical field around the user’s fingers and produces a sensation of texture on an object or surface. The electrovibration can be manipulated to cause the user to feel edges, bumps, or changes in the textures on a surface.
The generator of the small alternating current is a device that be positioned anywhere on the user’s body, which is what makes this technology unique. Devices, such as cell phones or game controllers, are instrumented with mechanisms that create haptic feedback. With Revel, the surfaces can be anything from a tablet touch screen to a wall or plastic object. The only modification required is an insulator-covered electrode, called a Revel Skin, and a common electrical ground with the electrical current generator.
Disney has a range of innovative applications in mind. Imagine an interactive art museum where you are actually encouraged to touch the displays, or envision feeling textures on a tablet computer beyond a smooth glassy screen. There are also potential assistive technology applications for the visually impaired in the form of tactile directions on the walls to lead to exits or restrooms. This technology could be combined with the traditional visual and audio inputs to create a completely immersive augmented reality experience.