At the Siggraph conference in Anaheim, Disney Research showed off a new invention called Aireal. This haptic technology promises to allow people to interact with imaginery objects that are rendered out of thin air.
So imagine, there is a computer image of a butterfly nearby, the butterfly slowly moves its wings causing the leaf it is on to sway. You reach out to touch it and as you do the projection flutters and jumps on to you. You feel a touch; as you lift your hand to see what it is, you feel it moving up your arm. You are interacting with an imaginery object.
Aireal works by creating a small vortex or puff of high-pressure air, that is blasted at a user from up to three feet away. What the user feels isn’t the blast of air as such, but rather the tactile sensation comes from the differential between the low-pressure in the room and the high-pressure vortex.
The rings of compressed air come from five minature speakers. A nozzle is hooked up to a pan-and-tilt controller, which then aims the speakers in the right direction, with a maximum resolution of 8.5 centimeters in diameter.
The engineers behind Aireal have said that the system is capable of creating “free air tactile ‘textures’ that allow the user to feel the properties of the objects by moving their hands in free air.” They also pointed out that this is the first in-depth study of this kind of haptic display.
The researchers feel that this type of haptic technologycould be used to provide feedback for computer interfaces and video games. They also think it could provide new experiences like the butterfly on your houseplant that was mentioned before, it is what they call “transient haptic displays”. For example, they think in the future a movie watcher could be hit with vortices when there is an explosion onscreen, maybe causing papers to blow off the living room table, enriching the whole movie experience.
The possibilities for this technology are very exciting and as the team say “We have only begun to scratch the surface of what is possible.”
[Images via Disney Research]