Ultrahaptics raises $23 million for its invisible ‘touchless interfaces’

As huge tech companies continue to dump money into VR and AR technology looking to convince us digital objects in front of us are actually real, they’re still having a tough time figuring out how to make them feel real.

Ultrahaptics is working on a technology that uses ultrasound waves to construct 3D objects in the air that users can feel. The startup is looking to use this tech to build “touchless interfaces” that go beyond conventional hand-tracking, allowing users to flip invisible switches and turn dials mid-air while feeling haptic feedback so they can tell when they’re completing an action.

The Bristol, England-based company announced in a blog post today that it has secured $23 million (£17.9 million) in a Series B round of funding. Dolby Family Ventures, Woodford Investment Management, Cornes and the IP Group participated in the round. Ultrahaptics has raised nearly $40 million to date.

The company has some interesting initiatives when it comes to virtual reality input, but another one of the main areas they’re currently seeking customers is in the automotive space, where they’re working with partners to bring Ultrahaptics tech into the dashboards of cars so drivers can control interfaces with hand gestures. I had a chance to demo an Ultrahaptics solution a couple of months ago and, while it’s pretty clear that the company is still in the early stages of finding use cases for its tech, it’s definitely an interesting solution to some tired problems.

While technologies like hand-tracking have been the augmented reality control input du jour, one of its biggest issues is the lack of tactile feedback. Ultrahaptics hopes that their solution can meet some of the needs of the VR and AR industries, whether it’s by attaching a device to a headset or keeping it as more of a tabletop experience.

The company currently has a Touch development kit available for developers looking to build on their ultrasound platform. Ultrahaptics is looking to ship an update this quarter that gives devs a library of sensations to integrate into their interfaces.