Stephen Brewster, a professor of human-computer interaction at the University of Glasgow, UK and his team aim to bring touch, sound, and levitation to videogames in the future with their project called levitate. Their plan involves the use of ultrasound—the same technology used in-car sensors to stop you hitting the wall when parking—to create three different effects. The first is ‘feelable forces’ in mid-air, imitating the feeling of touch without there being a physical object present. The second is what’s known as parametric sound, where a speaker can emit highly focussed audio that is heard just by one person and not, for example, the person sitting next to them. And the third is what gives the project its name: levitation of small objects.
The team is now planning to bring all three aspects together and run them off the same ultrasound speaker system. The sensation of touch comes about when ultrasound waves from different emitters combine at focal points that are moving incredibly quickly, creating the illusion of a solid object in mid-air.
Although this technology is focused on videogames, the technology has other worthwhile applications. Bomb disposal robots could pass the information on to a computer programme that feeds into a wearable haptic device for the person controlling it, for example. Other examples are scientists could sit around a model of a protein floating in mid-air and manipulate it or designers could reach in and make changes to their work in a real 3-D model, not a 2-D computer-simulation of one.