In Southwestern England, The UltraHaptics is a small start-up company with a big dream of changing the way we interact with electronic devices remotely using sound waves.
Their technology creates tactile 3D shapes literally out of thin air, using ultrasound. The company’s tagline says: “Feeling without touching.” Through the emission of sound waves, perceptions are projected through the air and to the user.
“Changes in air pressure are perceived as suspended tactile surfaces, creating invisible — but tangible – interfaces “.
How it works
A tactile sensation is provided by ultrasonic waves, which alter air pressure. This already sounds quite interesting, but paired with some other technology can become a game-changer.
Virtual reality completely avoids the sense of touch by applying UltraHaptics’ technology to it would allow users to touch and feel the virtual world projected in front of their eyes.
Tom Carter who is the founder of UltraHaptics Company sees potential in the merging of these technologies, by putting on virtual reality goggles and explore visually through headphones.
Sense of touch
“Imagine the dashboard of a car having no buttons, no switches, and no ugly controls: just a very nice, sleek dashboard.
“If you’re driving and you want to have the music up, for example, you don’t have to take your eyes off the road, you just hold your hand out and the controls stick to your hand, so you can feel them.”
Smartphones and other devices could also see benefits by controlling appliances in the kitchen, using TVs and computers or even Snoozing the alarm in the morning would all become just a matter of waving your hands.
Devices like Xbox gaming camera and many others can already be controlled with gestures, but UltraHaptics add an extra layer of feedback, by generating the sensation of a force field: “Haptics is not only a sense of touch but contains all of the information that you get from the sense of touch. What you’re feeling, what sort of pressure, the tactile sensation gave by an object or surface. You also know where your limbs are and how they’re moving, all from the sense of touch. It’s all this information that cues how you’re interacting with the world,” Carter said.
Ultrasound can be touch and feel
To create invisible buttons or shapes, UltraHaptics use a small collection of ultrasonic speakers, concentrating the sound waves to a specific point. Sound travels through the air by creating a pressure differential, so by focusing several of these differentials to a target location, the result is a single localized spot of high pressure.
“If you put your hand in the way, it actually emits enough of a force on your hand to slightly displace your skin.”
“We use that and control it to vibrate your skin and give you this feeling. What you eventually get is a sensation of vibration on your hands,” Carter explained.
With the current prototype, the smallest point that can be created is 8.5 millimeters in diameter, but the shape can be morphed into a surface, creating different textures over a single “object” by differentiating the pressure levels.
Other companies are working on similar projects, such as Elliptic Labs, wherein they created more interest in this technology to the users.
UltraHaptics, who have already built several prototypes and have demoed the technology to the public at the last CES in Las Vegas, say they are working with 15 to 20 clients who are looking to incorporate tactile ultrasound into their products.
“We have everything from consumer electronics companies making things like speakers, radios, alarm clocks, through home appliance companies making cooker hoods, washing machines, to virtual reality in gaming companies. And we were very surprised at how keen the automotive industry is to work with us,” Carter said.
They are leading the field with their approach, Devices using sound to keep us in touch invisibly, sensationally, and magically. This could also revolutionize robotics in such a way wireless becomes the 3rd asset for people instead of 2nd Imagine a Button Wheel Spinning.