Emerging Display Technologies

MIT Students Get a Feel for Mid-air Haptics

23 March 2017

A recent addition to the undergraduate curriculum at MIT immerses students in virtual reality environments that recreate the sense of touch in mid-air. The course is based on the work of Ivan Sutherland, a computer scientists and Internet pioneer considered the "father of computer graphics”. Students are exposed to his vision of an “Ultimate Display” – a room that could render data so realistically that it would allow users to interact with information as if it were a real, physical object.

Sensations are projected onto a hand using ultrasound. (Source: Ultrahaptics)Sensations are projected onto a hand using ultrasound. (Source: Ultrahaptics)

The course integrates haptics technology developed by UK-based Ultrahaptics that allows users to feel virtual shapes, objects, and controls in mid-air, without the need to wear gloves or hold specialized controllers. The haptic sensation is projected directly onto the user’s hand, using modulated ultrasound.

Commenting on the Ultrahaptics-MIT collaboration, Robin Alter, VP of Strategic Partnerships for Ultrahaptics said: “We are delighted to be bringing our technology to the academic community and we are excited to see what the students will develop. A sense of touch is fundamental to how humans interact with, and experience, the physical world. However, current virtual and augmented reality applications still lack intuitive tactile feedback, which significantly impacts user experience and the sense of presence. Ultrahaptics’ technology recreates the sense of touch in mid-air, enabling users to reach out and interact naturally, unencumbered by wearables and controllers.”

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