Disney Is Making It Possible to Feel Fireworks Using Water Jets

Fireworks are a lot of fun to watch, a fact that Americans are reminded of every Fourth of July. Unfortunately, as a visual medium they’re hard to enjoy for people with visual impairments. Now, a team from Disney Research and ETH Zurich has come up with a way to tactilely simulate fireworks using water jets.

Disney Research and ETH Zurich’s new project consists of a large-scale tactile firework show in which water jets are directed onto a flexible screen, with different nozzles for different firework effects. (📷: Disney Research)

Feeling Fireworks, presented 2017’s ACM Symposium on User Interface Software and Technology (ACM UIST), does this by using water jets to spray a flexible screen. The front side of the screen displays videos of the fireworks, and those who are visually impaired can touch the screen to feel the pressure from the water being shot on to the back side. The water jets themselves can be directed to match up with the video, and different nozzles can be used for different feeling effects.

The hardware is all off-the-shelf, making the design practical to build. The screen is a 1m x 1m latex sheet, and the water is continuously pumped through the system at varying pressures. A Kinect is used to provide sensory input, and an Arduino controls it all. Disney has tested 5 different nozzles, to provide unique effects that correspond to particular kinds of fireworks.

Aside from entertainment applications like this, the same technology can be used to produce large haptic feedback displays that are affordable. Traditional tactile displays are expensive, and the square-cube law means that increases exponentially as the size of the screen grows. The technology behind Feeling Fireworks would make it possible to make large tactile screens at a reasonable price.

More details on Feeling Fireworks can be found in the team’s paper here.