Touch Panel

Video: Feeling Fireworks via Haptic Technology

13 November 2017

Visually impaired Disney Resort visitors could soon experience the theme parks’ spectacular fireworks – courtesy of a haptic interface under development at Disney Research.

The interface consists of a flexible screen and water jets. The water jets translate the fireworks pattern into the equivalent of Braille: where each jet strikes the screen, the user can feel that illuminated portion of the sky and, by moving her hands around the screen, discern the contours of pattern others see in the night sky.

The research team from Disney Research and ETH Zurich points out that assistive technologies like haptic interfaces typically provide practical help. The idea behind the tactile fireworks project is to give the visually impaired access to an aesthetic experience. Sighted observers can also share the novelty of feeling fireworks.

The free-standing Feeling Fireworks system is not expensive and is made from easily-sourced equipment. Behind the square-meter latex screen, a pump provides variable water pressure, feeding water to different-sized nozzles. Some nozzles create rockets, others create crackles; one creates the familiar "blooming flower” effect. The nozzles can be opened, closed and tilted to recreate the shifting fireworks in each show. An Arduino controls the pump and nozzles, compounding and sequencing the effects.

The system includes visual content for sighted users and it responds to the user’s finger press, allowing the user to interact with the fireworks display. A laptop PC controls the rear-projection device and a Kinect motion sensor.

How well does this prototype system work? The researchers worked with visually-impaired users during the development process, eliciting input on the quality of the experience. In addition, 18 sighted participants compared video clips of individual fireworks to the tactile experience by assigning each tactile fireworks effect to a video. This initial group of testers correctly assigned 66 percent of the tactile effects. The Disney team expects that the small number of ambiguous effects can be rectified during the fireworks show design process.

Disney has not announced a date to roll out this technology. The team reported its research at ACM’s User Interface Software and Technology conference in October 2017.

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