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UK researchers produce "forcefield" objects in thin air

UK-based researchers have developed revolutionary “forcefield” technology that creates the sensation of objects in thin air by using sound waves and could bring a new era of touchscreen technology to life.

The “UltraHaptic” system, developed by researchers at Bristol University, uses a range of ultrasonic transducers to produce the series of waves in mid air that make it feel like there are objects floating around.

“By creating multiple simultaneous feedback points, and giving them individual tactile properties, users can receive localised feedback associated to their actions,” Tom Carter, a PhD student in the Department of Computer Science's Bristol’s Interaction and Graphics group, told The Guardian.

The sensation felt on the skin is known as haptic feedback and is the tactile feeling given by virtual objects. Other examples of haptic feedback include smartphones vibrating when virtual buttons are pressed whereas others will emit a tone, and the “UltraHaptic” system goes further than this.

The system works by using a computer to emit signals to a system of five driver boards that power the transducer array. A leap motion controller tracks the user and the haptic feedback that reaches the user’s hand is projected through an acoustically transparent display placed on top of the array.

“Current systems with integrated interactive surfaces allow users to walk-up and use them with bare hands. Our goal was to integrate haptic feedback into these systems without sacrificing their simplicity and accessibility,” Carter added.

Some examples of the different ways the research team have used the technology include showing population density on a map and using the play button and volume controls on a media player.

The likes of Microsoft’s Kinect sensor have been tracking motion since being released and allow a person to interact without the aid of a traditional controller. None have yet been able to offer the UltraHaptic feedback that Bristol’s researchers can and games console manufacturers could be some of those to take advantage of the new technology.

Image Credit: Flickr (rbanks)