New research has developed a way of suspending 3D shapes in midair using ultrasound. Looking like a scene taken out of a blockbuster film, the shape can be seen and even felt with your bare hand. Researchers at the University of Bristol’s Department of Computer Science are working to develop this technology not just for use in entertainment and consumer electronics, but also for medical training and even rehabilitation.
I’m sure you’ve seen secret agents and spaceship pilots of the future interact with holographic computer screens or models suspended in mid-air in front of them. Nowadays even films set in the present incorporate technologies that, until recently, we could scarcely even imagine; however, technology like you’ve seen in the movies may become science reality pretty soon.
The shape is generated using ultrasound focused into patterns with which the hands can interact. The air disturbance is seen is seen as a floating 3D image. Though images have been created that look similar to those generated in this study, the significance with these techniques is that the generated shapes can actually be felt. They did this using a form of haptic feedback like what is used in portable electronics today. It works similarly to the way typing on a virtual keyboard provides tactile feedback.
The 3D shape that is seen is generated as a visual reference so users can see the area with which they can interact. The ultrasounds detects disturbances in the air, which is how it knows to provide haptic feedback. In a video demonstration (below), they direct the ultrasound at a thin layer of oil to illustrate patterns generated by the field. When projected at the hand, these are the waves that the system detects the hand is interacting with and provides tactile feedback.
In addition to the many ways the technology could be used that you’ve probably seen in movies, there are many practical applications for these ultrasound shapes that users can feel and interact with. According to Dr. Ben Long and Professor Sriram Subramanian, two of the study’s lead authors, one of the most groundbreaking applications for this technology would allow doctors to explore CT scans and to actually feel a disease, such as a tumor, due to the haptic feedback.
To read more about this technology, check out the University of Bristol press release.