Turn Everything Into a Touchscreen

Turn Everything Into a Touchscreen

New touch-sensitive technology may turn everyday objects into touchscreens, revolutionizing home goods and gaming.

Touche, developed by a team of researchers from Disney Research, Pittsburgh University and Carnegie Mellon, harnesses the tactile sensing technology used on touchscreens to run a variety of devices, including doorknobs, chairs and household appliances.

The technology uses Swept Frequency Capacitive Sensing, or SFSC, which lets objects interpret the body position and how it is being touched and reacts accordingly. Users can coat the surfaces of ordinary objects with transparent conductors programmed to respond to the body’s electronic frequencies, making them touchscreen-enabled.

“This might enable us to one day do away with keyboards, mice and perhaps even conventional touchscreens for many applications,” Munehiko Sato, one of the researchers, explained.

Touche could have major potential for companies looking to develop “smart home” technology.

Unlike smart home innovations relying on smartphones and cloud technology, like home-improvement vendor Lowe’s cloud-based kit and Google’s Android@Home service, Touche effectively transforms devices themselves into the mobile technology, imbuing everyday objects with touchscreen capabilities.

Touche casts a wider net with its ambitions than those explored with AT&T Labs’ system for opening doors using similar technology, taking it beyond simple home security. For example, the researchers experimented with doorknobs, but unlike AT&T’s system, users do not need to have their smartphones handy to operate the knob with their fingers — the knob itself would be programmed to respond.

Aside from potentially boosting smart home technology, Touche may also have a profound effect on gaming. SFCS could turn ordinary objects into controllers, and may be better at responding to subtle touches than current body-conscious controllers, like Nintendo Wi or Kinect, since researchers say its touch-recognition rate is near 100 percent.

Microsoft is testing Kinect on its upcoming Windows 8 platform, demonstrating the company is exploring new ways for users to interact with its devices. Kinect is motion-sensitive while Touche functions through touch, so a combination of both technologies could create responsiveness that stands out from the crowd, especially since Touche can turn human bodies into sensors.

Touche has the potential to transform an array of appliances and household objects into “smart” devices, and once it becomes available for commercial application, companies invested in smart home technology like Google and Lowe’s may jump at the opportunity to transform daily lives in the future.

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