rDigital News: Touchless “ultrahaptic” touchscreens, a Google-aided reunion, and teens go public on Facebook

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Once again, “Minority Report” has proven itself as the most prescient of sci-fi films as ultrahaptic technology spreads, while Google shares a heartwarming story of a prodigal son, and Facebook decides teens can manage their own privacy.

It’s this week’s rDigitalNews recap.

Ultrahaptic technology creates touch-free touchscreens

"Ultrahaptic" touchscreens would resemble the user interfaces in "Minority Report"
“Ultrahaptic” touchscreens would resemble the user interfaces in “Minority Report”

Researchers in Bristol have adapted ultrahaptic technology to work through screens, bringing to mind fantasies of sci-fi toys like holodecks and touch-free interfaces.

Tom Mendelsohn at The Independent does his best to explain the device:

It works in a quite simple fashion. Waves of ultrasound are projected above the screen and displace the air, creating a pressure difference. This is called acoustic radiation pressure. By focussing ultrasound waves at a specific point in mid-air, a noticeable pressure difference is created.

In short, these ultrasound waves can be shaped into textures and invisible shapes you can feel with your hand; imagine an invisible volume knob for your car stereo. The ultrahaptic vibrations would provide feedback to the device and to the user, unlike simple gesture controls like those of Microsoft’s Kinect, which entail waving your limbs in front of a camera.

For a deeper look at ultrahaptic technology, Gizmag has a detailed breakdown of the science behind it.

Google Maps brings a long-lost son home

Saroo Brierley fell asleep on a train in his home country of India just before his fifth birthday, eventually waking up hundreds of miles from anything he recognized as home. Adopted and raised by a family in Tasmania, he spent 25 years wondering if he would ever find his way home.

Everyone has spent a bit of time using Google Earth and Street View to check out locations from their childhood, places they used to live, or places they’d like to go. When Brierley realized he could see his childhood home, it led to this incredible story.

In 2012, 25 years after they were separated, he found his mother. She called his siblings, and the family was together again.

“It was a needle in the haystack,” he said. But in his case, he had a digital guide through the haystack.

Facebook lets teens go public

Stories of teenagers’ social media mishaps are a dime a dozen – an inappropriate picture that shouldn’t have been shared, the wrong thing being said, all the resulting bullying. Yet Facebook made an interesting decision this week, allowing users 13 and 17 to make their posts viewable to anyone on the network.

Claiming that their young users area also their “savviest,” the social media giant is trying to make the case that teenagers will have the good judgement to know with whom they’re sharing what. Of course, virtually anyone who has ever been a teenager can tell you that good judgement isn’t exactly par for the course.

As Tim Samson points out at the Daily Dot, “it’s no secret that Facebook has vested monetary interest in getting more users to share more information—regardless of age.” So while the company will suggest that they’re looking to empower young people to communicate with a larger audience — if they so choose — it’s not difficult to view this as a move that could potentially endanger users who are already prone to lapses in judgement on social media.

rDigitaLife gets recognized

Quick moment for self-promotion: We’ve been nominated for Best Web Series (Non-Fiction) at the nextMEDIA Digi Awards.

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