Presenting at international graphics conference SIGGRAPH earlier this week, Disney researchers revealed REVEL, a technology for adding virtual textures to everyday objects. According to a report from MIT's Technology Review, the system generates an imperceptible electrical charge in the user's body — when they touch an object which shares the same electrical ground as the generator, REVEL modulates the charge to create the sensation of texture. Crucially, the whole system is based around the user, and works with any object capable of conducting electricity — check out the video below for a more in-depth explanation.
REVEL shares elements with Touché, another touch research project demoed by Disney researcher Ivan Poupyrev back in May. Poupyrev is also involved in REVEL, under the direction of lead researcher Olivier Bau. "The sensations at this point are carefully designed and range from feeling virtual pebbles, to fine textures, such as sand, to glassy or rubbery materials, to larger spatial geometrical patterns such as grooves [and] bumps," he said during his SIGGRAPH talk. He pointed out that, with further development, the project has the potential simulate much more complex sensations.