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University of Bristol creates holograms you can feel and touch

Researchers at the University of Bristol have come up with a way to touch and feel holograms.

While holograms have been around for some years, perhaps most prominently when “Tupac” joined Snoop Dogg on stage for his 2012 Coachella performance, they have previously been only visual experiences.

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Now, a team led by Dr Ben Long and made up of fellow researchers Professor Sriram Subramanian, Sue Ann Seah and Tom Cartehow has developed a method that creates 3D displays that can be felt.

“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 Dr Long. “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.”

The technology uses ultrasound, which is focused onto the observer’s hands so that they “feel” the hologram in the form of haptic feedback. By using complex combinations of ultrasound waves, various shapes can be created, with the pattern of air disturbances rendered as floating 3D objects.

So far, researchers have been able to demonstrate a number of different ultrasound patterns by projecting the device at thin layers of oil.

The system is capable of generating a virtual 3D shape that can be added to 3D displays to create something more interactive, but the University of Bristol team hopes that the technology will have a multitude of uses. It could potentially have medical benefits by enabling surgeons to feel tumours on a CT scan using haptic feedback.

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While those kind of utilitarian applications may be some way off yet, hologram technology has clearly come a long way from its science fiction origins.

Barclay has been writing about technology for a decade, starting out as a freelancer with IT Pro Portal covering everything from London’s start-up scene to comparisons of the best cloud storage services.  After that, he spent some time as the managing editor of an online outlet focusing on cloud computing, furthering his interest in virtualization, Big Data, and the Internet of Things.