Researchers Use Femtosecond Lasers To Display Touchable Images In The Air

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A Japanese company called Aerial Burton has been using lasers to ionize air molecules in midair for a few years now, thereby creating bright pixels that float in space. Using the original system, however, you were essentially creating floating plasma which could burn you if you touched it. Now, however, the researchers at the University of Tsukuba, Utsunomiya University, Nagoya Institute of Technology, and the University of Tokyo have reduced the power necessary to generate the images by using femtosecond lasers, a feat that lets you actually tap images to interact with them.

From Spectrum:

Our system has the unique characteristic that the plasma is touchable. It was found that the contact between plasma and a finger causes a brighter light. This effect can be used as a cue of the contact. One possible control is touch interaction in which floating images change when touched by a user. The other is damage reduction. For safety, the plasma voxels are shut off within a single frame (17 ms = 1/60 s) when users touch the voxels. This is sufficiently less than the harmful exposure time (2,000 ms).

These tiny “Fairy Lights” can change when you touch them and are completely safe to walk through – something the original system wasn’t able to promise. Because there is still considerable energy in the lights touching them creates a physical sensation akin to haptic feedback. This means you can actually “feel” light as it floats in front of you, creating some pretty unique user interface systems.

The creators expect to use the new system to build bright, interactive signage and even emergency signs that can display easily visible animated warnings in emergency situations. It’s important to note that these incredible videos look really close to magic, a prerequisite for any sufficiently advanced technology.