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Disney Research creates haptic feedback out of thin air

A new peripheral created by Disney Research creates tactile feedback for more immersive augmented reality with just the air.

(Credit: Disney Research)

A new peripheral created by Disney Research creates tactile feedback for more immersive augmented reality with just the air.

Playing games with the Kinect can be fun, but one thing many bemoan is the lack of tactile feedback. Yes, you can see the on-screen action, and its responses indicate that you are "hitting" virtual objects; but not being able to feel something responding, even if it's just a rumble pack or a button, makes the experience a little more empty.

Of course, people have been playing around with developing haptic technologies for gaming for some time — but they usually involve physical contact, and can thus end up quite costly for the consumer.

Disney Research has a different solution: creating haptic feedback out of thin air. Aireal is a small, low-cost device that allows users to feel virtual objects and textures and recieve feedback on full-body gestures — all without having to be in contact.

The device uses five subwoofers and diaphragms to create vortices of moving air that can move at speed for a distance of about 1.5 metres through a flexible nozzle mounted on a gimbal structure. A 3D depth camera can track the user's movement; between the camera and the flexible nozzle, the vortices can be fired accurately to target any part of the user's body.

The simulated sensations can include objects, such as in a video game, by shooting out bursts of air; textures, by varying the speed at which the vortices are produced; and air movement. A number of Aireal devices mounted around the user's position can also be used to create a rich and varied tactile environment, and it can be scaled to various sizes — smaller for a mobile device, or big enough to send a vortex through several rooms.

Since most of Aireal's parts are 3D-printed, it has massive potential as a low-cost, accessible accessory. Disney Research is especially focused on its potential as a gaming peripheral. The development team, led by Rajinder Sodhi, said in their paper:

We are particularly interested in using Aireal to create new gaming experiences that allows us to feel and engage with our virtual objects in new and meaningful ways. This can be achieved by enhancing traditional display devices (eg televisions, desktops, mobile phones) with Aireal to provide users with interactive tactile sensations that are coupled to interactions with virtual 3D objects.

But the team has much bigger visions in mind. "One of our long-term visions is to create complete 3D shapes in the air," Sodhi said. "Imagine

holding out your hand and feeling someone's face. This will start truly eroding the boundary between real and virtual."

We're just imagining it teamed up with the Oculus Rift and the Omni treadmill. Maybe Disney Research needs to get this thing on Kickstarter.

Check it out in action in the video below.