Surround Haptics, developed at Disney Research, Pittsburgh, enhances video game play by using an array of vibrating actuators in a chair to create the tactile illusion of continuous strokes on the player’s back. (Photo: Disney Research, Pittsburgh)

Surround Haptics enhances video game play with a chair containing an array of vibrating actuators which create the tactile illusion of continuous strokes on the player’s back. (Photo: Disney Research, Pittsburgh)

Imagine playing a video game and literally feeling the jolt of an on-screen car collision. Or sitting in a movie theater and experiencing the sensation of  a finger being drawn against your skin as you watch it on film.

In an effort to make movies, television and gaming as life-like as possible,  the folks at Disney Research Labs at the Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Penn., have developed Surround Haptics, a technology which allows video game players and film viewers to feel a wide variety of sensations.

The use of 3D has become incredibly popular in offering a realistic visual experience, and 3D sound or surround sound technology, provides an authentic listening environment.  With Surround Haptics, researchers are taking things to the next step by adding a sense of touch to the experience.

In developing Surround Haptics, researchers performed a number of comprehensive experiments which examined the relationship between actual physical stimuli and the effects they produce in the mind. From these experiments, the team was able to create new models which explored how people perceive the sense of touch.

To demonstrate Surround Haptics, researchers enhanced a high-intensity driving simulator game with the technology. The game players were seated in a chair outfitted with a number of vibrating mechanisms, called actuators, which allowed the players to feel sensations such as road imperfections and objects falling on the car.  They could also feel a sense of skidding, braking, acceleration and the impact of a collision.

Surround Haptics has only been implemented with a gaming chair so far, but the researchers say with further work, the technology can be easily embedded into items such as clothing, gloves, sports equipment and even mobile computing devices.

In addition to heightening the entertainment experience,  Surround Haptics’ underlying technology could be applied to enhance means of communication for the blind, emergency workers, vehicle operators, athletes and others.

This weekend on the “Science World” radio program, Dr. Ivan Poupyrev, senior research scientist at the Disney Research Labs in Pittsburgh, who, co-invented Surround Haptics with his colleague Ali Israr, tells us more about this intriguing technology, how it was developed and its potential applications.

Listen to the interview here…

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Other stories we cover on the “Science World” radio program this week include: