For years, manipulation of objects using the senses of touch and proprioception, known as haptics, has been implementing in various fields including rehabilitation, entertainment and surgical training. Now scientists have developed an invisible 3D haptic shape that you can see, touch and feel using ultrasound. Well, this is what happens when applied science goes out of hand.

The paper was published in the current issue of ACM Transactions on Graphics and it will be exhibited at SIGGRAPH Asia 2014 conference which will start from 3rd of December. The paper demonstrates how a method has been created to produce 3D shapes that can be felt in mid-air.

3D Haptics Technology That Can Be Seen, Touched And Felt

This very thing, the invisible 3D haptics technology that can be seen, touched and felt, is the brainchild of Dr Ben Long, who is the lead researcher and his colleagues Professor Sriram Subramanian, Sue Ann Seah and Tom Carter from the University of Bristol’s Department of Computer Science.

The researchers believe the technology could enable surgeons to explore a CT scan by enabling them to feel a disease, such as a tumour, using haptic feedback; and this eventually could change the way 3D shapes are used.

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As mentioned above, the researchers use ultrasonography, which is focused onto hands and above the device that can be felt. The high-frequency sound waves would enable the air disturbances to be seen as floating 3D shapes, which is achievable only focusing complex patterns of ultrasound.

Visually, the researchers direct the device at a thin layer of oil to demonstrate the ultrasound patterns, so that the depressions in the surface can be seen as spots when lit by a lamp.

To create something that can be seen and felt, the system generates an invisible 3D shape that can be put on to 3D displays. The research team have also shown that users can match a picture of a 3D shape to the shape created by the system.

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

“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.”