In Aldous Huxley’s 1932 Brave New World, “Feelies” are augmented movie theaters equipped with technology that manipulates the audience’s sense of touch. A sex scene, for instance, can be felt as much as it can be watched—i.e. the sensation of silken fur on a bearskin rug as lovers copulate on it. Now 80 years later, with the newly revealed REVEL interface, Disney is beginning to flesh out this titillating dystopia, albeit without the titilation that recent augmented touch devices normally excite.
Just wanted to get that out of the way, because the REVEL might not be so base. According to Disney, “REVEL is a new wearable tactile technology that modifies the user’s tactile perception of the physical world.” MIT’s Technology Review has firm grasp on how:
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An imperceptible electrical signal is introduced across the user’s whole body to create an oscillating electrostatic field around the skin. When touching a physical object, such as a tablet screen, that shares a common electrical ground with the REVEL signal generator, an electrostatic force modulates the friction between the sliding finger and the object to create the sensation of a texture.
This means that you won’t actually have to wear anything but an invisible, electrostatic field to feel virtual textures on any object, the device actually programming new textures onto real surfaces, manipulating how and what we feel. Perfected, the electrostatic field could confuse our entire nervous system into an immersive virtual environment, which is often a teleology of videogames. But still, it gets a little more Huxlian when this developer start talking:
“Sight and sound are important, but we believe the addition of touch can create a really unique and magical experience,” says Olivier Bau, lead researcher on the REVEL project. “Instead of making objects and devices simulate tactile effect, we are changing your feeling of the real world. We are altering human perception. The rest of the world remains passive.”