Disney Researchers Programming Tactile Feedback into Devices as AR Field Broadens

I have watched the slow progression of an increasingly broadening medium known as augmented reality go from gimmicky to perhaps revolutionary. Now, put together 3D that we can see with the naked eye via augmented reality with touchscreens that we can feel via the emerging field of haptics, and there are even more great possibilities.

The Ontario Augmented Reality Network is hosting Canada’s largest augmented reality conference on October 6 in Toronto. Headlining will be the editor of Wired magazine Bruce Sterling, and Toronto-based augmented reality expert Helen Papagiannis among others.

“Each medium has unique characteristics to be harnessed, capabilities that extend beyond other mediums,” says augmented reality designer, PhD researcher, and artist Helen Papagiannis. “We’re presently in this exciting phase of AR, of identifying, as well as being able to technically influence, what these capacities and criteria are and can become. Just like film, television, radio and photography when first novel, AR presents brand new terrain ripe for creative exploration. With this comes the possibility of forming new conventions and developing a stylistic language of AR.”

Helen was recently inspired by the “100 Ideas That Changed…” series and pondered what are the “100 Ideas That Changed AR?” She’s given out four of those ideas in a recent blog post.

Perhaps the most interesting idea that has changed AR recently is the introduction of haptics, with touch and tactile sensor technology. REVEL, put together by Disney researchers Ivan Poupyrev and Olivier Bau is based on reverse electrovibrations to program the sense of touch into devices.



Helen says: “REVEL can provide tactile feedback both on a touchscreen, or, quite wonderfully, on the physical object itself (without the use of a virtual glove or stylus). As the video above details, this haptic technique can even be applied to projections. Now, imagine, what would it be like to feel scenes in a projected film? What new tropes and stylistic motifs might emerge in such a genre? Will there be an AR director of our times who will become known for their unique sensibilities and style of touch in haptics?”

I covered Immersion, a company with Montreal offices that is integrating haptics into mobile gaming in a post about RIM during late July.

Another interesting idea has to do with “point of view.” Helen says with augmented reality, we can see the world through an object, through our hands, and that there can be customized interpretations of visual reality. This is great for disabled people that suffer from blindness, for example.

Everyone may be familiar with what a hologram is, but two movies come to mind that have illustrated customized interpretations of visual reality. One is Vanilla Sky with Tom Cruise and Penelope Cruz, produced in 2001 and not surprisingly given Cruise’s involvement with the Church of Scientology. According to Wikipedia: “Vanilla Sky has been described as “an odd mixture of science fiction, romance and reality warp,” “part beautiful people fantasy, part new age investigation of the great beyond.”

Secondly, The Final Cut, produced in 2004 stars Robin Williams acting as a cutter who edits people’s lives that have been taped by “ZOE implants” inserted into people’s brains. When they pass away, their lives are broadcasted in the form of a heavily edited “rememory” at funerals.

Beyond some of the above applications and great things augmented reality can do for the disabled and those with health problems, there are also increasing safety concerns about the wearable media aspect of augmented reality. AR enthusiast and pioneer Professor Mann was assaulted at a McDonald’s in Paris while abroad this summer for wearing his customized “EyeTap digital eye glass.” I kind of predicted it would be social suicide to obviously wear something like Professor Mann does in April. Oakley is doing the right thing in possibly integrating the technology discreetly into sunglasses. A manufacturer of hipster glasses may also include embedded technology. You can also view the Google Goggles video in that link above.

Further, I recently saw a man riding his bike on the beach boardwalk here in Toronto with a digital camera strapped on top of his helmet. The stares he got and the shocked look on the public’s faces shows that wearable media technology needs to be embedded discreetly. Filming via mobile phone or tablet is a little bit too obvious as well but has become generally accepted when used within reason. However, if all I have to do is wear my sunglasses and it becomes my smartphone, I am all for the technology if it has enough features because it is less things I have to carry around.

There are positives and negatives about all technologies including the various aspects of AR, and there are lines that probably should not be crossed. But we already live in an increasingly connected and big brother like society.