We were only barely aware that Disney Research even existed, but entirely out of left field it's come up with a simple yet sophisticated implementation of capacitive touch sensing that's one of the coolest tech demos we've seen in a very long time.
It's not terribly hard to endow an object with touch sensing capability: you just rig up a wire to it, apply a small voltage, and then when someone touches the object, the capacitance changes and you can tell. What Disney Research (in partnership with Carnegie Mellon University) has done that's so clever is to use a "novel Swept Frequency Capacitive Sensing technique" that monitors many different signal frequencies at the same time.
Since the tissues in your body all have different capacitive properties, paying attention to all those different frequencies makes it possible to tell what part (or parts) of the body are being used and even how they're moving. This even works with liquids (!), and the gesture recognition is 99% accurate, all with just one single wire. You really do have to see it to be believe it, so here's Touché (as it's called) in action:
Yeah, that liquid touch sensor is pretty cool, but I absolutely love the idea of being able to use body gestures to control electronic devices. And speaking of electronic devices, I wish I could tell you that Disney is ready to license this technology out to all and sundry, but the research paper plays it closer to the vest:
Touché - without any modification - enables a rich swath of interactions from humans, to doorknobs, to water. ...In practical applications the sensing can be limited to a range of frequencies that are most appropriate for a particular product, reducing cost and improving robustness. ...Completely new interaction technologies are required, and we hope that this work contributes to the emergence of future ubiquitous computing environments.
It's clear that Disney recognizes the potential of this touch system, but such recognition is a long way from commercial product integration, and we're just going to have to hope that someone with a bunch of clout sees this demo, gets on the horn to Disney, and forces a huge pile of money into its white-gloved hands in exchange for the rights to use this in absolutely everything.