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Scientists Create Virtual 3D Shapes That Can Be Seen and Felt

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Scientists at the University of Bristol have developed a haptic system, with the help of which it is possible to see and touch virtual 3D models.

Haptic technology simulates the sense of touch in virtual reality (creating so-called touch feedback) and is widely used in mobile phones and gaming. It has also found a number of applications in medical training and surgical simulation, and now it has been used by British scientists to create haptic holograms which can be seen and felt.

With the help of ultrasound, the system creates disturbances in the air, which can be felt on the skin and thus simulate the sense of contact with the object. The method is based on the effect ultrasound has on physical objects, known as acoustic radiation force. By observing the behavior of the sound, it is possible to determine the shape of the object hit by the sound wave. The researchers used this effect to focus ultrasound patterns to cause air disturbances and thus form virtual 3D shapes in mid-air, which can be felt when placing one’s hand above the device.

“This approach applies the principles of acoustic radiation force, whereby the non-linear effects of sound produce forces on the skin which are strong enough to generate tactile sensations. This mid-air haptic feedback eliminates the need for any attachment of actuators or contact with physical devices,” the researchers wrote in the paper published in ACM Transactions on Graphics.

The research team also used a thin layer of oil to demonstrate the ultrasound patterns visually since they are invisible by themselves. At the moment, the scientists have only experimented with simple geometric shapes such as pyramids, cubes, spheres, etc.

What about the practical uses of this method? According to the research team, it could find a variety of applications in entertainment and gaming industry, and even in medical technology.

As lead researcher Dr. Ben Long said in a press release, “Touchable holograms, immersive virtual reality that you can feel and complex touchable controls in free space, are all possible ways of using this system.”

“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,” he added.

Now we can only imagine the potential uses of this method, but it is certain that it could revolutionize the virtual reality technology. Who knows, maybe one day all our vehicles and mobile devices will be equipped with holographic displays, just like in Star Wars or Star Trek.

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“Scientists Create Virtual 3D Shapes That Can Be Seen and Felt”