Touché: The Magic of a Human Touchscreen

What’s that I hear you say? Although not apparent at first, Touché is Disney’s attempt to revolutionise touchscreen technology.

Touchscreen technology is now most associated with mobile devices, as it forms the very basis of smartphones and tablets. However it has found its way into many areas. For instance, the days of the shopping mall paper maps are numbered as an increasing number turn to touchscreen stations for guidance. Additionally, VTech, a manufacturer of children’s electronic learning toys, has implemented touchscreen technology into some of its latest products such as the MobiGo, Storio and the Innotab, which aims to be a learning app tablet for 4-9 year olds. The list could go on and on.

But researchers at Disney are looking for their next source of magic, and it’s not in the form of any character or blockbuster movie. They are looking to take touchscreen technology to a whole new level where everything you come into contact with, from a lamp to a laser printer in the office, could be activated by the flick of a finger.


Touché—A Touch Technology


The Touché system is more advanced than that used to navigate your way around a smartphone. Instead of just recognising that it is being touched, the system can identify different types of touch, from a light brush with one finger to a full hand grasp. Some of the concepts conceived by the researchers to make use of this technology include a doorknob which knows whether to lock itself from the way it has been touched, or a sofa which can change the lighting in a room and the volume of the TV depending on the way in which the person is sitting.

This is not the limit, however, as the unimaginable may soon be possible: A human touch screen could soon become a reality. Sound like too much of a fairy-tale? Perhaps not.

The potential to turn a human into a responsive surface is an exciting concept. This would work by placing electrodes on the body, which would transfer control from the device to the body. For instance, you could control your smartphone not by swiping the device itself, but by swiping your arm or the palm of your hand. To switch the phone on silent mode, the user might put their finger to their lips.

The technology is based on a technique called Swept Frequency Capacitive Sensing, which lets the object determine the way it is being touched. Capacitive sensing is used in touch screens used for smartphones and tablets but these operate on a binary level; the device can only detect if the user is touching the screen or not. Touché could be used almost everywhere because it merely requires a wired connection from a sensor control to any conductive elements of the chosen object. For a human interface to function, Dr Poupyrev, senior research scientist at Disney Research, has indicated that this would require the placement of two interactive electrodes on different parts of the body.

Although it may appear as a strange sight, with people waving hands and arms and performing various other actions in public without any apparent reason, this may soon become the norm as this technology revolutionizes the way in which we interact with the world around us.

Learn more the author of this post:

Daniel Moeller
I was born in Berlin, Germany, studied Engineering in London and wrote my thesis on emergent computer technology. I now work as an engineer and freelance writer for London-based firms. My interests include blogging about technology, computer science, social media and design in my spare time.