OffBeat

UltraHaptics uses the magic of sound waves to create touch feedback in mid-air

UltraHaptics is creating a new way to touch and feel devices — by removing touch from the equation entirely.

The system, created by researchers at the University of Bristol, creates a series of high-frequency sound waves that exert force on whatever they’re pointed at — including the human hand.

While the technology is still in its early stages, the researchers are already working up models of how it can be used to facilitate mid-air gestures (a la, Leap Motion) and to create tactile information layers over displays.

In the video explaining the technology, the Bristol researchers showed off a U.S. map that generated different levels of feedback to illustrate population destiny. It’s a basic use case, but it shows just how precise and comprehensive UltraHaptics can be.

The University of Bristol team, however, isn’t the only group using technology to mimic the sensation of touch.

Researchers at Disney are trying to use algorithmically generated friction to give device users the sense that they’re touching on-screen objects. The technology artificially stretches the skin of the finger, mimicking the exact forces that allow us to register touch.

disney-tactile-rendering

Above: Disney’s technology tricks your fingers into thinking they’re feeling physical objects.

Here’s how Disney Interaction Group director Ivan Poupyrev explains the technology:

Our brain perceives the 3D bump on a surface mostly from information that it receives via skin stretching. Therefore, if we can artificially stretch skin on a finger as it slides on the touch screen, the brain will be fooled into thinking an actual physical bump is on a touch screen even though the touch surface is completely smooth.