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Researchers develop laser images that you can touch

A Japanese firm has developed laser technology that can create touchable images floating in mid-air.

Aerial Burton has previously created a floating plasma system, but the images created were too hot to be touched. Now researchers have refined the technology, enabling spectators to touch the images.

Read more: University of Bristol creates holograms you can feel and touch

The technology harnesses femtosecond lasers, a type of ultrafast laser, to ionize air molecules and create floating pictures. Scientists at the University of Tsukuba, Utsunomiya University, Nagoya Institute of Technology, and the University of Tokyo now hope that the interaction with the laser-created images will create a unique experience.

In fact, because of the energy levels of the lasers, individuals that touch the images will be able to “feel” the lights, a sensation compared to haptic feedback.

“Shock waves are generated by plasma when a user touches the plasma voxels,” researchers explain. “The user feels an impulse on the finger as if the light has physical substance. The detailed investigation of the characteristics of this plasma-generated haptic sensation with sophisticated spatiotemporal control is beyond the scope of this paper.”

Read more: Fujitsu smartglasses use lasers to fire images directly into retina

Scientists behind the technology ultimately hope to create interactive signs that could prove useful in emergency situations. However, before the technology makes its way into smartphones, wearables and other gadgets, it will need to become significantly bigger. Currently, the femtosecond lasers have only been able to create displays in a workspace of approximately eight cubic millimetres.