Researchers from Disney Research and Carnegie Mellon University are working on a technology dubbed "Touché" that will enable real-world objects like chairs or doorknobs to detect a touch event, and also recognize what they are being touched by and how they are being touched. The basic tenet of this new technology is to use sensing circuitry to monitor the change in electrical signal passing through an object when it is touched by a conductive material, such as our fingers. It goes the extra mile by sensing capacitive signals across a range of frequencies to build a "capacitive profile" whereas typical touchscreen systems only pick up signal at a single frequency.
With this "capacitive profile" or Swept Frequency Capacitive Sensing (SFCS), Touché is able to recognize to a certain degree the level of human interaction with an object or surface. The capacitive profile will vary depending on the stimuli applied, the system can distinguish the touch of a single finger, multiple fingers, a full-hand grasp and many other touch gestures.
Touché is in its nascent phase but researchers are already envisioning its application in a numerous scenarios, from controlling portable devices with only your body gestures, to a doorknob that knows whether to lock or unlock based on how it is grasped. Currently, it may seem to have rather mundane practical usage for its application; however, we do hope to witness more creative and useful implementations of Touché in the near future. On a side note, Disney will present the technology at the Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems in Austin, Texas from May 5-10.