A View from Christopher Mims
Five Transformative Uses for Disney's Touch-Sensitive Technology
Wearable computing, the end of keyboards, enhanced security and sex could all benefit from Touché.
Disney has a new technology, called Touche, that can turn any object, including the human body, into a touch-sensitive surface that recognizes not only when contact has been made, but what kind of contact it is. Plenty of places have covered the details of how this technology works – which are fascinating. But I have to admit that what should have been the most exciting part of Disney’s presentation on Touché – the use cases – left me flat. (It starts at 2:50 in the video above.)
So here are five use cases that could transform this technology from an interesting oddity to something potentially transformative.
1. Goodbye Keyboards
Texting is slow, voice recognition isn’t suitable for every context, and if you think a generation raised on iPads is going to know how to touch type, I’ve got a roomful of “state of the art” computer mice I’d like to sell you.
But what if we could use the Touche technology to replace keyboards with a technology that has for too long been relegated to the backwaters of technology: Chording.
Chorded keyboards let you do wacky things, like tap out emails on handlebars while riding a bicycle, which Steve Roberts accomplished as early as 1986. Now imagine that you’re entirely liberated from all input devices – because the input device is your own body.
In a kind of gestural interface, there’s no reason you couldn’t tap out letters in rapid succession by chording them, fingertips against palm, in your own (empty) hand. Want to write an email? Hook up your augmented reality glasses and go for a walk.
2. Truly Wearable Computing
One use case Disney’s video does explore is a limited form of wearable computing. In the example they give, the user is controlling his portable music player via taps and swipes on his own arm. But imagine he had an even richer gestural interface – there’s literally nothing you couldn’t do in terms of interfacing with a computer.
The trick, of course, is coming up with a gestural interface that is fast but not error-prone. Would it resemble sign language, but with more touching? Clearly, there’s room for someone to invent the QWERTY of touch-based, body-centric gestural interfaces.
3. Sketch Anywhere
A tiny projector in your augmented reality glasses, plus surfaces wired for touch, plus a human body wired for Touché style touch interfaces could turn any surface into a drawing surface.
4. Secure Transactions
Imagine a secret handshake that you share only with the touch pad at any cash register. This unique sequence of swipes, pokes, elbow touches – whatever – would be more secure than what we employ in the US now, a signature, which has got to be the most pathetic excuse for security theater going. (Those signatures aren’t even used by your bank, which is why in most transactions they’ve been eliminated.)
Is there any more obvious application of an interface that requires you to touch yourself, and which could trigger all kinds of events when you touch others?
Got more ideas about how Touché could be used, either in concert with the human body or on surfaces that weren’t previously wired for touch? Leave them in the comments.
Become an MIT Technology Review Insider for in-depth analysis and unparalleled perspective.Subscribe today