New ultrasonic technology developed by Japanese scientists, allows people to touch things that aren’t actually there. The device creates a virtual environment where objects that you can see on the screen come to life as waves of ultrasound in mid-air. “Sound is a pressure wave.” States Professor Takayuki Iwamoto. This means that although you can only see the object on a screen, inaudible sound waves create a focal point which your hand will perceive as a solid object. A camera conveys information to a computer which reads where your hand is, tracks its movement and ultimately tells the computer where to concentrate the output giving you the sensation of touching the surface of the virtual object.
Virtual environments and the quality of digital pictures, graphics, sound and gaming capabilities are all proof that the future is now. But this amazing technology is something that we’ve been dreaming about since “Back to the Future” came out in theaters. This has been experimented with, but always required a special glove, exoskeleton, or device in order actually be able to interact with or feel virtual objects. The ultrasonic waves will allow users to “touch” objects with their bare hands.
The team is working on a final product that provides a more solid feel of the contours and textures of objects. They are even looking into combining the technology with 3-D modeling software for use in video games. The inventors are mostly interested in applying this “virtual feel” tool to gaming. Users can grab an object with two hands and more than one person can touch a virtual object at once.
Currently, the device is still in the prototype phase and only exerts a small amount of force to the focal point, but an improved version should be available to the public in the next year or two. One of the major issues that they are facing with improving the solidity of virtual objects is that if too much ultrasonic waves are produced or scattered, the result can be permanent damage to the ears of users and nearby onlookers. Ultimately though, once perfected the use for this kind of technology could perhaps be applied to the medical field as well. Imagine being able to touch your baby before it’s born. The possibilities are endless.