Disney develops 'surround haptics' for spine-tingling games

Posted by Emma Woollacott

Disney Research has come up with a new tactile technology that exploits phantom sensations and other tactile illusions to give a greater range of physical sensations than ever before.

Its Surround Haptics system, it says, makes it possible for video game players and film viewers to feel the smoothness of a finger being drawn against skin, for the example, or the jolt of a collision.

It's incorporated the technology into a driving simulator game, whjich it will next week demonstrate at SIGGRAPH 2011 in Vancouver.

A chair kitted out with inexpensive vibrating actuators allows players to feel road imperfections and objects falling on the car, sense skidding, braking and acceleration, and experience 'ripples' of sensation when cars collide, jump and land.

"Although we have only implemented Surround Haptics with a gaming chair to date, the technology can be easily embedded into clothing, gloves, sports equipment and mobile computing devices," says senior research scientist Ivan Poupyrev.

"This technology has the capability of enhancing the perception of flying or falling, of shrinking or growing, of feeling bugs creeping on your skin. The possibilities are endless."

The system is based on an algorithm developed through extensive human tests. This controls an array of vibrating actuators in such a way as to create 'virtual actuators' anywhere within the grid of actuators. A virtual actuator can be created between any two physical actuators; the player has the illusion of feeling only the virtual actuator.

As a result, users don't feel the general buzzing or pulsing that's typical of most haptic devices today, says Poupyrev, but can feel discrete, continuous motions such as a finger tracing a pattern on skin.

Disney says the system could have applications in communication systems for the blind, as well as in movies, music and games. We're thinking porn.