On 23 May, NHK announced that it has been working with Tokyo University to create a way to not only transmit images over long distances but to also send the sense of touch. Using this, viewers would also become able to actually feel whatever appeared on screen with their own hands.
This system makes use of Tokyo University’s newly developed device which can measure the dimensions and hardness of an object in three dimensions simultaneously. On the other end, NHK has been hard at work on a Touch/Force Display which would allow viewers to get tactile feedback from the images presented on screen.
The solid object being recorded by Tokyo University’s thechnique is placed under a remote sensing device that doesn’t require any physical contact. The project seems to stress the “solid object” part of this technology which leads one to assume feeling liquids such as water won’t work.
But that’s okay, if you’re a warm-blooded heterosexual male like myself, there’s only one thing on your mind that you’d like to touch: A frying egg!
Come on! Am I right guys? For too long have I had to sit and watch an egg cook in a frying pan, wondering what it felt like. But I could never reach out and touch it for fear of burning my hand. However, this new technology makes it all too possible as we can see in this exciting, science-y diagram.
In the first panel, the frying egg is placed under the scanner. Next, two sets of data are collected. One set maps the egg into a grid of three-dimensional coordinates giving us the shape and size of it. In addition each grid point is also given a value corresponding to the hardness at that location.
Finally, the data is sent to NHK’s Touch/Force Display. NHK is remaining tight-lipped on the particulars of this display, but we can kind of see how it works by the diagram and their brief description. The image of the egg is broadcast to the display. That image is then projected into a 3-D space to scale through a technique using mirrors similar to the way Disney makes those ghosts at Haunted Mansion. Then your finger, which is presumably connected to some kind of haptic device (a device that simulates force feedback), allows you feel the hardness of the object via “haptic sticks” which provide the appropriate sensation on your skin.
As seen in the video above, other tech companies like Microsoft have been working with such displays, but the NHK and Tokyo University project seems to want to bring it to a highly realistic level utilizing the visual accuracy of a video or photo with an equally true-to-life tactile experience.
It might be some time still before we start seeing this technology becomes available to the masses, but this partnership seems fruitful. I can just imagine the day touch-o-vision is a success; at its launch party, Tokyo University researchers raise their glasses in triumphant celebration just as someone from NHK knocks on their door and demands a ridiculous monthly fee for a television station they never watch.