Haptic technology is everywhere around us. That annoying buzz of your smartphone that drives you crazy if you forgot to turn off the key tap sound, or the rumble of your Wii controller as you smash a ping pong ball are all a form of tactile feedback technology which recreates the sense of touch by applying forces, vibrations, or motions to the person that uses it. This type of mechanical stimulation is used to assist in the creation of virtual objects, using a computer simulation, to control such virtual objects, and to enhance the remote control of machines and devices. In short, haptic technology is doing for the sense of touch what computer graphics does for vision, so to say.
Haptic technology is making it possible for us to investigate how the human sense of touch works. Using carefully controlled haptic virtual objects created for this purpose, this technology allows us to probe human haptic capabilities, which would otherwise be almost impossible to achieve. One good example of how important this technology is its use in rehabilitation of stroke patients and much more.
Having all this said about the haptic technology, we are encountering a new development that is both amazing and incredibly promising. Scientists have invented a new method of haptic feedback using ultrasound, one which creates 3D haptic shapes in mid-air that can be seen and felt.
Researchers based at the University of Bristol, are saying that this will surely transform the way that we use 3D haptic shapes in the close future. On the long run, this might lead to the creation of touchable holograms. Thinking about the infinite usage possibilities of such a great discovery? Think about how we could augment learning, or enhanced gaming experience by allowing users to feel features of the game! Go further and imagine the place it would conquer in medicine, for example by allowing surgeons to physically feel the tissues, by exploring CT scans.
By adding some invisible 3D shapes to 3D displays, scientists were able to create something that can be both seen and felt. It was also demonstrated that users were able to match images of a 3D shape to the shape produced by the device. Here is how it works.
How the 3D Shapes were created out of ultrasound
The method, is called ACM Transactions on Graphics. It exploits an effect produced by ultrasound called acoustic radiation force, which is the scattering and absorption of the acoustic wave. By observing how sound waves behave when they encounter an object, it is possible to deduce the shape of the object. During the research, it was also discovered that it is possible to feel these shapes by focusing complex patterns of ultrasound onto our hands. In doing so, the researchers created air disturbances that could be felt on the skin and seen as floating 3D shapes. The ultrasound patterns cannot be seen by themselves, but the team visualized them by directing the device at a layer of oil so that depressions at the surface appeared as spots when illuminated.