Turning Everyday Objects into Touch-Sensitive Devices

A new technique can transform doorknobs into multi-touch devices.
Karin Heineman, ISTV Executive Producer

(Inside Science TV) -- Move over cellphones, tablets and anything else with a touchscreen. Computer scientists have developed a new sensing technology that turns almost anything into a touchscreen-like surface.

“We wanted to create a sensing technology which allows us to make the whole world interactive in a very easy way, "said Ivan Poupyrev, a computer scientist at the Disney Research Center in Pittsburgh, Pa. said. "[We wanted] something that can be connected by a single wire, just a touch to the object around it, and suddenly this object magically became responsive to humans,” he said. 

But it’s not magic, it’s real. The new touch-sensitive technology, called Touché, is a technique that allows everyday objects to sense human touch.

"We built a smart doorknob… the doorknob recognizes how you’re touching it, a light touch, a strong touch, a grasp, the doorknob can recognize,” said Poupyrev.

Using a touchscreen technology – called capacitive sensing – it detects small amounts of electric charge moving from the touchscreen to a finger or hand.

Common touchscreens detect this movement with a built-in electrical circuit operating at a single rate or frequency. Touché uses multiple electrical frequencies to distinguish between the touch of a single finger, several fingers, a full-hand grasp and many other gestures.

“At each frequency the signal will take slightly different path through the user body if the user configuration changes, if the body configuration changes, the path will also change,” Poupyrev said.

By attaching a single electrical wire to an object, like a doorknob, a computer analyzes the changing electrical signals between the object and hand to identify a gesture. Objects can detect a touch and recognize complex patterns and motions.

Poupyrev said, "There [are] multiple ways you can use it. For example, it can be a password; the way you're touching the doorknob would lock and unlock itself. "

Researchers have also created a children’s computer game by attaching a single wire to a glass of water to detect a fingertip. 

Eventually, Touché's creators hope that this technology will help people with disabilities to interact with objects to recognize their own touch abilities.


Author Bio & Story Archive

Karin Heineman is the executive producer of Inside Science TV.