Virtual reality is getting closer to reality. A system developed by researchers at the University of Bristol allows you to touch 3D virtual objects. The technology uses sound waves to project ‘haptic holograms’ in mid-air allowing you to feel what you are seeing using vibrations in sound waves. The vibration is produced by emitting high-frequency sound waves from tiny speakers. When your hand gets closer to the hologram, the force from the sound waves is felt on the skin.
The change in frequency of the sound waves that creates the virtual shapes and feelings is termed ‘acoustic radiation pressure.’ This technology could let surgeons use their hands to examine a lump detected by a CT scan.
Ben Long and his team created the VR breakthrough while working on a previous version of their Ultrahaptics technology which was capable of projecting only 2D contours above the screen. The advancement to full three dimensional shapes resulted with the addition of a Leap Motion sensor, which tracks the position of a person’s hand. With the knowledge of where the hand is in relation to the invisible object, the UltraHaptics system projects a direct ultrasound at the correct time and creates full 3D objects.
Researchers claim that adding a sense of touch as well as sight and sound, will make it easier for people to immerse themselves in virtual reality. So far, the team has been successful in projecting several shapes for instance, including pyramids and spheres. The level of detail in virtual objects isn’t quite amazing, but with the addition of more tiny speakers, the quality of the projections can be improved.
This isn’t the first endeavor attempting to introduce touch into virtual reality. There are a couple of near-production haptic devices named dexmo skeleton and Go Glove that use haptic responses to simulate touch.
The technology can also find its applications in other fields such as to stop the spread of viruses on touchscreens, to type PINs on ATMS or surf the internet with wet hands.
If you are interested in watching a live demo of the Haptic system, you can do so at SIGGRAPH Asia on December 3, 2014.