When you give a mouse a VR headset he’s going to ask for some haptics to go with it. To that end, researchers at the University of Bristol have created a system for projecting invisible “shapes” in the air using ultrasound. When your hand enters a sphere, for example, you feel the edges and the contours of it and, in the case of multiple objects, the contours and spaces between.
These objects are essentially “touchable holograms” that can simulate touching actual objects in space. For example, you could generate a hologram of an engine block or a ribcage and then work with students as they moved their hands in and out of the vibrating air that made up the shape. Obviously you’re not going to simulate complex shares just yet but the potential is there. “The new technology could enable surgeons to explore a CT scan by enabling them to feel a disease, such as a tumour, using haptic feedback,” wrote the researchers.
“[It is] immersive virtual reality that you can feel and complex touchable controls in free space are all possible ways of using this system,” said Dr Ben Long, Research Assistant from the Bristol Interaction and Graphics (BIG) group in the Department of Computer Science. “In the future, people could feel holograms of objects that would not otherwise be possible, such as feeling the differences between materials in a CT scan or understanding the shapes of artifacts in a museum.”