HAPTIC. Feel, touch, feel virtual objects: this is the promise of so-called haptic technologies (from the Greek hapesthai, touch), or “force feedback”. The first devices using these methods were gamers who had them in their hands with controllers or vibrating steering wheels for example. But the method developed by a team at the University of Bristol goes much further: it makes it possible to feel invisible 3D holograms.
To make the shape of invisible objects feel, the researchers used ultrasound like those used to perform ultrasound scans. By concentrating them, it is possible to generate air disturbances that can be felt by the dermal sensors located in the hand. This is a known phenomenon that scientists call acoustic radiation pressure. The tour de force lies in the use of this characteristic to model shapes in 3D.
In the video above, the ultrasonic profiles are highlighted by projecting the acoustic waves onto a thin layer of oil.
The researchers present their technique in the journal ACM Transactions on Graphics and this week at the SIGGRAPH Asia 2014 conference, which takes place in Shenzhen, China. They managed, for the time being, to simulate simple shapes: cubes, spheres or triangles.
APPLICATION. But the goal is to be able to use haptic feedback in virtual reality applications. “With this technique we will dive into immersive virtual reality. In the future, people will be able to feel holograms that would otherwise not be palpable,” explains Ben Long, one of the authors of the study.
Among, the applications considered, the researchers talk about the possibility of applying it to imaging methods so that the surgeon can literally feel a condition like a tumor under his fingers. Or, a use in museums that would allow visitors to touch exhibits.
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