The technology allows people to feel like they are touching a hologram.
SCIENTISTS have created a new technology that allows users to feel the sensation of touching something that is not there. Ultrahaptics claims to be the first company in the world to develop a device which allows users to feel sensations with their bare hands when they are just touching air.
It is claimed the project, part-funded by the European Union (EU), will revolutionise hygeine in healthcare, security and virtual reality systems.
An Ultrahaptics spokesman said: "While interacting in mid-air with a touchless sensing system, this frontier heralds a fundamentally new relationship with technology.
"The EU-funded UTOUCH project has enabled the development of ultrasonic speakers which project Invisible forces into the air, capable of being felt on human skin at a distance of up to one metre.
"The technology adds value to gesture-control applications, such as hand swipe recognition for control functions."
The firm says the technology can generate invisible buttons, dials and sliders that can be felt when needed, along with visible hand-tracking interfaces.
A Ultrahaptics spokesman said: "The range of possible applications is almost limitless."
A user of the system feels car parts that are displayed on the computer screen.
The team has demonstrated possibilities including touchless household device controls and a holographic ATM machine.
It is believed it could also improve transport for the blind and visually impaired.
The technology was born during PhD project carried out by current Ultrahaptics Chief Technology Officer Tom Carter.
Steve Cliffe, UTOUCH project coordinator and Ultrahaptics CEO, said: "We use 40 KHz ultrasonic transducers, much like those used in vehicle parking sensors and many other places.
"Based on the X and Y coordinates for our target reception area, we arrange the transducers accordingly so that we can project the sound at high pressure to the right place.
"The technology will be ubiquitous, replacing many devices and procedures, where it will enhance safety and security, increase accessibility – for example for the blind – as well as delivering more unique, immersive and enriching experiences in daily life."
The device works in conjunction with motion sensor cameras, to track the position and activity of the hand.
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By knowing where the hand is and what it is attempting to do, allows algorithms to inform the device what kind of sensation to create and at which 3D coordinates.
Sound waves and vibrations are then manipulated to sculpt a force onto the hand, creating the desired feeling and texture.
It is argued that having "invisible control panels" for people to use without the need to touch an actual display, will improve hygiene.
In medical environments it can reduce pathogen transmission from surfaces and equipment.
The same hygiene principle also applies to public spaces, for example for lift control buttons.
The technology can also be extended to the smart home and workplace where heating, entertainment, and lighting controls relying on touch for activation, such as keyboards and mice, could be replaced the system.
Mr Cliffe said: "Brand engagement is a fast moving sector. Take film posters, people typically currently spend 3.8 seconds looking at one.
"By making them more interactive with touchless sensing we get that dwell rate up to 10-15 seconds, and up to 30 seconds when we integrate gaming.
"A demonstration of this at CES included a poster which emitted lighting – which could be felt by visitors - from a sorcerer’s orb.
"Indeed, the development team see the next frontier residing in mixed realities, blending Artificial Intelligence, Artificial Reality and Virtual Reality, of particular value to the gaming and entertainment industries."