Photo Credit: By Vito Palmisano [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

With the New Year just weeks away, you are probably looking forward to watching the dazzling fireworks shows that will usher in 2018 worldwide. Unfortunately, the over ten million visually impaired and blind Americans, and scores more around the globe, have never been able to experience this joyful celebration. That may change soon thanks to Feeling Fireworks, a tactile fireworks experience invented by the masterminds at the Disney Research Lab in Switzerland.

To experience the show, users stand in front of a large, 2.9 by 2.9 feet, flexible latex screen. They then place their hands at the base of the screen and move them around to feel the fireworks. Alternatively, their hands can be situated in the center of the screen, where the initial explosions happen, and then moved across to explore other fireworks on the periphery.

Feeling Fireworks (Photo Credit: Disney Research)

As the fireworks begin to explode, one of five nozzles situated at the back of the screen starts to spurt water, creating vibrations mimicking the pyrotechnic show. One specializes in the “blooming flower effect,” while another reproduces the “crackle” effect. The rest take care of rockets and explosions. A rear-mounted computer controls the timing, while a Microsoft Kinect camera tracks the person’s movement. According to the inventors, Feeling Fireworks allows users to experience “tactile fireworks that are directly analogous to physical fireworks happening in the sky.”

A screen displaying the vivid images created by the water jets makes the tactile experience fun for everyone. Paul Beardsley, who led the research team, says, “We want blind, visually impaired, and sighted people to all try Feeling Fireworks, and to depart with a shared and enjoyable memory of a fireworks evening.”

Feeling Fireworks (Photo Credit Disney Research – YouTube screen capture)

Unveiled at the User Interface Software and Technology conference held in Quebec City, Canada from October 22 to October 25, 2017, the low-cost technology is still in its early stage, with only a 66 percent success rate. However, the team plans to continue improving the experience and believes the day when everyone will be able to enjoy the thrill of fireworks shows is not far. When ready, Feeling Fireworks will initially be available only at the Disney theme parks, and then hopefully, at fireworks shows worldwide.