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Disney Research virtualizes touch in new augmented reality

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Disney Research has unveiled a new wearable technology that generates tactile sensation from virtually any object in the physical world. More than one industry may be interested in this new kind of augmented reality.

Queue the science fiction movies. Disney Research has unveiled a new wearable technology that generates tactile sensation from virtually any object in the physical world. Called REVEL, the new project uses what Disney researchers call reverse electrovibration. If you're wearing a REVEL device and touch an object with an attached electrode, the electrical potential difference between the two creates an electrostatic attraction. By varying the amplitude and frequency of that signal, you can experience different types of tactile response, like a sandy texture, or a smooth, glassy feel.

Technology Review first reported on the new technology, and grabbed this quote from the lead researcher on REVEL, Olivier Bau:

Sight and sound are important, but we believe the addition of touch can create a really unique and magical experience. Instead of making objects and devices simulate tactile effect, we are changing your feeling of the real world. We are altering human perception. The rest of the world remains passive.

Disney's tactile technology suggests an entirely different kind of augmented reality. It's also one more example of the company's continuing obsession with touch. Recently Disney also demonstrated how it could transform ordinary household objects into touch sensors designed to control electronic devices.

In the video below, you can hear Disney's suggestions for future uses of REVEL. Potential scenarios cited include adding texture to two-dimensional pictures, making private tactile information available on public displays (through some kind of authentication?), and creating textured clues for the visually impaired.

No doubt the adult industry will also want to get its hands on the technology. (Pun intended.) That is, after all, how many technological innovations get commercialized, and this one in particular seems suited to the purpose. The Mouse and his team of lawyers may have something to say about that, however. With the company's squeaky clean image, it's unlikely that Disney will be willing to share.

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Mari Silbey

Contributing Editor

Mari Silbey is an independent tech writer based in Washington, D.C. With a background in cable and telecom, she's a contributor to several trade publications, and part of the GigaOM analyst network. She also writes for the long-running digital media blog Zatz Not Funny, and has written for both corporate and association clients focused on broadband networks, mobile apps, and video delivery. She's a graduate of Duke University. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure