The Mouse That Researched


By Tim Moran

Is there a more in-your-face brand than Disney? You can probably count on the fingers of your two hands the number of people on the planet who have not heard of this media and entertainment juggernaut--and those people probably have not heard about indoor plumbing, either.

Films, TV networks, animation, theme parks ... the list goes on, and the company is a leader or innovator in each. Whether you like the mouse or loathe the mouse, you have to admit that Disney is an amazing operation.

While doing research for this blog, I came across a story about Disney that caught me by surprise, so I decided to delve into it a bit more. It appears that Disney Research has developed something called Touché, a new kind of sensing technology. According to the Disney Research Website: "Touché is a new sensing technology that ... can not only detect a touch event, but simultaneously recognize complex configurations of the human hands and body during touch interaction."

The technology is said to be able to enhance conventional touch screens and design "interaction scenarios for unique use contexts and materials." The really interesting aspect is that this touch sensitivity goes beyond computing devices to everyday objects (a doorknob, for instance), liquids and human body parts. A variety of fascinating articles about it are available at Fox News, and Gizmodo.

Now, back to this mysterious Disney Research--mysterious to me, at least. Almost everyone has heard stories about there being an entire underground city beneath the Magic Kingdom, and that there's only one place inside Disneyland to drink liquor, and it's a secret VIP-only restaurant called Club 33. But most people haven't heard that Disney has high-tech research facilities in Pittsburgh, in conjunction with Carnegie Mellon, as well as in Massachusetts and Switzerland. I certainly hadn't.

The question is, What is Disney researching at these locations--besides Touché, that is? Here's a look at what's being studied at the Pittsburgh facility: robotics, computer vision, human-computer interaction (HCI), speech understanding and machine learning. More specifically, they are working on things such as:

• Block-wise incremental adaptation algorithm for maximum-kurtosis beamforming • Controlling humanoid robots with human motion data • Combining voice-prompt suppression with maximum-kurtosis beamforming.

Maximum-kurotosis beamforming? Disney?

I suppose I shouldn't be too surprised by this, since Walt and his imagineers have been at this technology game for more than half a century. And one can only wonder what effect the results of Disney's research will have on the fantasy worlds it creates, as well as the real world in which it creates them.

I'll be on the lookout from the top of Big Thunder Mountain.