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Ultrasound Creates a 3D Haptic Shape that Can Be Seen and Felt


Image credit: Screenshot of youtube video by BristolIG (Bristol Interaction and Graphics group), University of Bristol

Haptic technology might be the technical term with which you are quite familiar. But it actually exists in our daily life, such as the buzz you hear from the smartphone when tapping the keys, and the rumble of the Wii controller when player smashing a tennis ball.

However, such touch feedback technology not just limited to enhance your game experience, it could also be applied to rehabilitation of stroke patients as well as surgical training. At present, researchers have invented a totally new kind of haptic feedback method via ultrasound, capable of producing 3D haptic shapes in mid-air which could be felt and seen.

It is envisaged by the scientists from the University of Bristol that this new innovation could change the way in which that 3D haptic shapes are used. It could allow the touchable holograms to promote learning, or enhance player’s gaming experience by ensuring them to really feel features of the game, like a football. In addition, it could be used in medicine, for instance, to make it possible for surgeons to feel tumors physically through exploration of CT scans.

Being described in ACM Transactions on Graphics, such method is targeted on explore an effect generated by ultrasound, known as acoustic radiation force, which is defined to be the scattering absorption of the acoustic wave. Following the observation regarding the way sound waves behave as they hit an object, it is likely to trace the shape of the object.

Additionally the team was quite certain that people could possibly feel these shapes by targeting complicated patterns of ultrasound onto their hands. In this way, the scientists had created air disturbances being felt on the skin as well as seen in floating 3D shapes. Although the ultrasound patterns cannot be observed by themselves, the team had visualized them by the means of directing the device at a layer of oil so as to make depressions at the surface appear as spots when they were illuminated.

By adding such invisible 3D shapes to 3D displays, researchers would able to produce something to be both seen and felt. Furthermore, the team had demonstrated that users were capable of fitting images of a 3D shape to the shape created by the device.

As Dr. Ben Long, the team leader said, touchable holograms, namely immersive virtual reality that people could feel and complex touchable controls in free space, would make this system possible to be used in many ways. In the days to come, people would be able to feel holograms of objects which could not otherwise be more likely, for example, to feel the differences between materials in a CT scan or better understand the shapes of artefacts in a museum.


[Via University of BristolACM Transactions on Graphics and CNET]