New research from the University of Glasgow has described a technique to develop ‘touchable’ haptic holograms.
The technology, developed by the University’s Bendable Electronics and Sensing Technologies (BEST) research group, could create holograms that users physically interact with.
While holograms are commonly seen in science fiction works, such as Star Trek and Star Wars, the Glasgow Uni method is an update of a 19th-century illusion technique known as Pepper’s Ghost, commonly employed in theme parks like Disneyland.
The pseudo-holographic display uses glass and mirrors to create a two-dimensional image that appears to hover in space. This pairs with a Leap Motion sensor that tracks users’ hand movements. A moveable air nozzle applies precisely controlled jets of air to their palms and fingertips to create the sensation of touch on users’ hands, fingers, and wrists.
The method, dubbed ‘aerohaptics’, was described in an article published in the Advanced Intelligent Systems journal. The paper describes how the engineers used the system to create a realistic sensation of bouncing a basketball.
With a computer-generated 3D image of a basketball displayed in space, and the Leap Motion sensor tracking the movement and location of the user’s hands, the system varies the direction and force of the airflow to create aerohaptic feedback.
The airflow was precise enough to allow users to ‘feel’ the rounded shape of the ball and the slap in their palm when it returns. Users can even ‘push’ the virtual ball with varying force and sense the resulting change in how a hard bounce or a soft bounce feels in their palm.
At present, holograms are largely confined to augmented reality technology. While there is research underway to create holograms viewable to the naked eye, that advance is still some way off.
As metaverse technology, the creation of sustained virtual environments, gains traction as the future of work, holograms have been touted as a feature that could help bridge the gap between physical and virtual workspaces.
Not only could we ‘enter’ virtual environments created using digital twinning technology, holograms can project virtual assets into the physical world. Haptic holograms can then allow people to interact with these objects in a natural and intuitive manner.
In addition, haptics could add greater realism to virtual reality gaming, letting users ‘touch’ their virtual environments.
According to Glasgow University, the technique could be used to create advanced forms of teleconferencing, and even help surgeons to perform procedures remotely.
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Professor Ravinder Dahiya of the University of Glasgow’s James Watt School of Engineering and leader of the BEST group said: “Haptic feedback and volumetric display technology has come a long way in recent years, bringing us closer to being able to convincingly interact with virtual objects.
“However, current haptic tech often still involves wearable or handheld peripherals, which add cost and complication and could be holding back widespread adoption of the technology.
“Aerohaptics creates a convincing sensation of physical interaction on users’ hands at a relatively low cost. We are already looking in to adding additional functionality to the system, such as adding temperature control to their airflow to deepen the sensation of interacting with hot or cool objects.”
Professor Dahiya added: “We believe aerohaptics could form the basis for many new applications in the future, such as creating convincing, interactive 3D renderings of real people for teleconferences. It could help teach surgeons to perform tricky procedures in virtual spaces during their training, or even allow them to command robots to do the surgeries for real. We’re looking forward to exploring the possibilities as we continue to develop the system.”