Create & feel complex patterns using Ultrasound

Researchers
have created a device that uses ultrasound to create complex patterns that you
can feel with your hand in mid-air. The device could be used in future gaming
and medical technology. 
Virtual
reality has reached the point where it can easily fool our vision and sense of
depth and balance. But if it’s to be truly believable our sense of touch needs
to be indulged as well. That’s the goal of the English company Ultrahaptics.
The company is working on a device that allows users to “feel” something that’s
not actually there.

Focused
ultrasound creates haptic shape of a virtual sphere (credit: Bristol
Interaction and Graphics group, University of Bristol)

Invented
by students at the University of Bristol, Ultrahaptics uses an array of small
ultrasound speakers to create “a noticeable pressure difference” on a user’s
hands, creating the feeling of touching something that’s not really there. The
Ultrahaptics device uses a Leap Motion sensor to track the user’s hands. This
makes it possible to create simulations that lets you feel the different parts
of an object, i.e. it will know if you’re touching the top, side or bottom of a
virtual object and respond accordingly. Technology has changed rapidly over the
last few years with touch feedback, known as haptics, being used in entertainment,
rehabilitation and even surgical training. New research, using ultrasound, has
developed an invisible 3D haptic shape that can be seen and felt.
  
Car
dashboard: touchless operation in eyes-busy settings (credit: University of
Bristol)

The
research paper, published in the current issue of ACM Transactions on Graphics
and which will be presented at SIGGRAPH Asia 2014 conference this week,
demonstrates how a method has been created to produce 3D shapes that can be
felt in mid-air. The research, led by Ben Long and col leagues Professor Sriram
Subramanian, Sue Ann Seah and Tom Carter from the University of Bristol’s
Department of Computer Science, could change the way 3D shapes are used. The
new technology could enable surgeons to explore a CT scan by enabling them to
feel a disease, such as a tumour, using haptic feedback.

HOW
IT WORKS
The
method uses ultrasound, which is focused onto hands above the device and that
can be felt. By focusing complex patterns of ultrasound, the air disturbances
can be seen as floating 3D 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 an invisible 3D shape that can be added to 3D displays to
create something that can be seen and felt. The research team have also shown
that users can match a picture of a 3D shape to the shape created by the
system.

“Touchable
holograms, immersive virtual reality that you can feel and complex touchable
controls in free space, are all possible ways of using this system,“ said Ben
Long, Research Assistant from the Bristol Interaction and Graphics (BIG) group
in the Department of Computer Science. “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.“ 

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