Disney's Touche Could Be the Next Big Thing


You may have heard that The Avengers did wonders for Disney's (NYS: DIS) image after the John Carter flop in March. The box-office hit successfully boosted share price and compelled several analysts, including Barclays Capital, to raise the target price from $44 to $48.

In fact, when the market took a downturn last week, Disney was one of five or six Dow Jones Industrial Average stocks to close higher on Tuesday and Wednesday, even hitting an all-time high. Impressive.

But what else does Disney have up its sleeve?
How about Touche, the futuristic "swept frequency capacitive sensing" technology capable of processing more information than current touch sensors? It allows any material, including water, to become a touch screen capable of reacting to multiple touches and gestures. Think of the faucets that turn on from a tap of the elbow -- but applied on a much grander scale.

Disney may plan to implement Touche into family homes to enhance the viewer experience. It would work something like this, according to IT World: Imagine you have a Touche-enabled living room "where you sit down on your sofa and the TV automatically turns on. As you get more comfortable and lean back to enjoy the show, your living room lights would dim. And if you become so comfortable that you fall asleep, the sensors in your sofa would recognize this and shut down the TV for better rest."

Touche is being designed by scientists at Pittsburgh-based Disney Research, a part of Disney's commercial research and development branch. The applications are seemingly limitless, from doorknobs (one finger tap to lock, firm grasp to open) to "smart chairs" that can detect posture and, for example, remind an elderly person to change positions.

Market implications
Because the applications of such a technology seem limitless, there is no end to the markets Disney can enter, from health care and education to security and gaming devices.

If successful, Touche could make current phone and tablet touch-screen technology seem outdated. That alone would give Disney an edge over numerous firms that specialize in the booming $13.4 billion-per-year touch-screen industry.

Last month Kapitall interviewed Ken Farsalas, director of U.S. equities at the Oberweis Small-Cap Opportunities Fund, who said, "The next biggest thing is sure to be ubiquitous connectivity" -- that is, when a single device controls everything from your email to your refrigerator, as exemplified by Apple's iPhone and iPad, and even more so by the living-room example above. Perhaps he's right -- but who would have thought Disney could be the source of development?

The complete integration would be especially harmful for Apple, which is trying to lead the way in product integration.

Business section: investing ideas
Disney senior research scientist Ivan Poupyrev wrote: "The dream of any user interface researcher is to make the world alive, where everything is responsive and reactive to the user in a good, 'smart' way. It is a very hard problem to solve and a lot of people have been trying to find how can we make the world responsive yet not obstructed by buttons, touch screens, panels and etc."

The realization of this product is probably a few years away, but it's interesting to know it's in the works. And one can only imagine how quickly a $13.4 billion industry will grow when touch-screens are no longer confined to mobile gadgets. And certainly a widespread application of Touche could mean Disney will become less reliant on its entertainment branches (movies, TV networks, and theme parks).

So what do you think? Can Disney actually beat out the competition in creating and applying this technology in our everyday lives?

Interactive Chart: Press play to compare changes in analyst ratings over the last two years for Disney and industry competitors. Analyst ratings sourced from Zacks Investment Research.

At the time thisarticle was published Kapitall's Rebecca Lipman does not own any of the shares mentioned above. More free tools at Kapitall.The Motley Fool owns shares of Walt Disney. Motley Fool newsletter serviceshave recommended buying shares of Walt Disney. The Motley Fool has adisclosure policy. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe thatconsidering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.

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