Tactile effects system has a pulse

Researchers at Disney have developed a system that uses controlled puffs of compressed air to accurately provide tactile feedback over short and long distances. By varying the intensity, frequency and targeting of the pulses, the researchers are able to create a number of tactile effects, including objects with textured surfaces and force feedback for gestures.

The Disney Research, Pittsburgh researchers produced air vortex generators by using five 2-inch speakers as actuators to create a pulse of air that is directed through a 3D-printed flexible nozzle. The pulse of air forms into a ring as it exits the nozzle. Actuators move the nozzle as necessary to direct the vortices at the user.

“What makes this particularly exciting is that we can create these effects literally out of free air, without the need for people to wear special gloves or vests, hold haptic devices or sit in instrumented chairs,” said Ivan Poupyrev, senior research scientist at Disney Research, Pittsburgh.
“The technology for creating these effects is scalable and relatively inexpensive, so we can envision using AIREAL to create magical experiences both for large groups of people and for an individual.”

The device can also be scaled to any size. “You can make the technology small enough to attach to a mobile device, or you can make it big enough to emit sensations that travel across multiple rooms,” said Rajinder Sodhi, a lead researcher for the AIREAL project.

Potential applications include virtual environments where by combining AIREAL with projection technology, for instance, the researchers were able to design an experience in which a butterfly is projected on a person’s arm and the person can feel the butterfly flap its wings.

Another possible application is “ambient haptics,” where other things in the environment visibly react to a virtual object.

“One of our long-term visions is to create complete 3D shapes in the air,” Sodhi said. “Imagine holding out your hand and feeling someone’s face. This will start truly eroding the boundary between real and virtual.”