4th December 2014
3-D haptic shapes can be seen and felt in mid-air
New research, using ultrasound, has developed a 3-D haptic shape that can be seen and felt in mid-air.
Touch feedback technology – known as haptics – has advanced rapidly in recent years. It is now used in a range of applications including entertainment, rehabilitation and even surgical training. New research by the University of Bristol, using ultrasound, has created a virtual 3-D haptic shape that can be seen and felt in mid-air.
This breakthrough, led by Dr Ben Long and colleagues at the university's Department of Computer Science, could improve the way 3-D shapes are used and function as an important new tool in certain situations. It could enable surgeons to explore a CT scan, for example, by enabling them to actually "feel" a disease, such as a tumour.
The method uses ultrasound, focussed onto hands above the device and can be felt. By focussing complex patterns of ultrasound, the air disturbances can be seen as floating 3-D shapes. Visually, the researchers have demonstrated the ultrasound patterns by directing the device at a thin layer of oil so that the depressions in the surface can be seen as spots when lit by a lamp.
The system generates a virtual 3-D shape that can be added to 3-D displays to create a holographic effect that can be seen and felt. The research team have also shown that users can match a picture of a 3-D shape to the shape created by the system. They have already been approached by companies interested in commercialising the technology. At this early stage of development, the level of detail in the virtual objects is limited, but using a greater number of speakers at smaller sizes could improve the resolution of projections.
“Touchable holograms, immersive virtual reality that you can feel and complex touchable controls in free space, are all possible ways of using this system,” says Dr Long. “In the future, people could feel holograms of objects that would not otherwise be touchable, such as feeling the differences between materials in a CT scan or understanding the shapes of artefacts in a museum.”