Holograms that seem to have mass and can be touched have long been the stuff of science fiction. Now, they are science fact.
Tactile technology which creates haptic feedback has been used for
years in entertainment (such as game controllers), rehabilitation
therapy, and even surgical training. Haptic feedback uses touch to
communicate with users. “The tactile sensations most people think of
when they say “touch” are part of what is known as the somatosensory
system. This encompasses a huge variety of sensations, not just
sensations such as vibration or pressure, but also things such as pain,
temperature, and the position and movement of your body in space,” as
explained by Ultraleap. Now, researchers from the University of
Bristol’s Department of Computer Science have taken a leap forward by
using ultrasound to develop a 3D shape in mid-air that can be touched
and felt by human hands.
The system could change the way 3D shapes are used. For example,
instead of only looking at images of a suspected tumor, surgeons could
explore a CT scan by touching a 3D projection of a tumor or other
irregular tissue using haptic feedback.
“Touchable holograms, immersive virtual reality that you can feel and
complex touchable controls in free space, are all possible ways of
using this system,” says Ben Long, who led the research team. “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 artifacts in a museum.”
The method used to create these touchable holograms uses ultrasound.
The holograms appear visible and tangible because they push away any
surrounding air or liquid. Those disturbances appear to human eyes as 3D
objects floating in mid-air. It’s like looking at a 3D outline floating
in front of you.
The research team from the University of Bristol’s Department of
Computer Science consisted of Ben Long, Sriram Subramanian, Sue Ann Seah
and Tom Carter. Their work on this project is published in ACM
Transactions on Graphics. They will also present their findings at the
SIGGRAPH Asia 2014 conference.
Image Credit: Ultrasound is focused to create a virtual sphere
(Bristol Interaction and Graphics group, University of Bristol, © 2014)