Dr. Ivan Poupyrev wants to make plants sing. And he’s succeeded.
This isn’t to say he’s bestowed some sort of creepy sentience on them or anything. Poupyrev is the principal research scientist at the Walt Disney Company and is interested in turning the world into a giant touch-interactive playground.
He and his research team came up with Swept Frequency Capacitive Sensing which allows touch interactivity to be applied to everything from plants to water to tables—all with a single wire.
Poupyrev showed off his technology in an interview with The Verge. He demonstrated that by simply moving one’s hand up and down the plant in various ways, one could produce sound from the computer attached to the plant.
The technology is similar to that of a smartphone’s touchscreen in that it is capacitive, which means it detects the human body’s electric charge and accepts it as input. Smartphone touchscreens work by means of capacitive coupling in which a transparent conductor carries an electric signal that gets redirected when a finger touches the screen. It’s a binary sort of interaction: either the screen is being touched or it isn’t which somewhat limits the sort of interactions that can take place.
Disney’s researchers take this a step further by measuring each action across a wide variety of frequencies which allows each gesture, each tap, each pinch and pull to be detected accordingly.
While singing plants are definitely cool, this is only the beginning, and it doesn’t take much imagination to see where this technology might go. Already, a few proof-of-concept applications include a smart doorknob that locks when pinched and a chair that dims the lights when reclined. In addition, the technology can be placed in a wristband which would allow you to interact with your smartphone while it’s in your pocket; a swipe could be used to change songs, for example, or a clap could pause music.
Touch interaction is definitely catching on, and as devices keep getting smaller and more powerful, smarter interaction will be what’s next. While Poupyrev’s singing plants have yet to make it to the mainstream market, it’s only a matter of time before our tech gets a lot more touchy-feely.