The new technology uses controlled puffs of compressed air - something akin to smoke rings - to create haptic feedback for motion tracking games. It can give the impression of a ball bouncing off a hand, of an arm tingling from the flutter of a butterfly's wings, or of the rippling of air as a seagull circles a user's head.
These rings of air, called vortices, can travel relatively long distances with targeted accuracy, making them easy to maintain and control unlike jets of air. They are generated by pushing air out of a round hole, and since the molecules on the edge of the blast make contact with the holem they travel slower than those in the centre. This is the machine equivalent of blowing smoke rings.
"We have only begun to scratch the surface of what is possible."
By varying the intensity, frequency and targeting of the pulses, the researchers are able to create a number of tactile effects, including objects with textured surfaces and force feedback for gestures.
"What makes this particularly exciting is that we can create these effects literally out of free air, without the need for people to wear special gloves or vests, hold haptic devices or sit in instrumented chairs," said Ivan Poupyrev, senior research scientist at Disney Research, Pittsburgh. "The technology for creating these effects is scalable and relatively inexpensive, so we can envision using AIREAL to create magical experiences both for large groups of people and for an individual in her living room."
The team have big ambitions for this technology, from providing feedback for playing games, to what they call "transient haptic displays." Simply put, when an explosion occurs when watching a film, your surroundings are affected by the blast, as vortices knock papers off your table and make your plants react accordingly to the shockwave.
Source: Disney Research