Jul.21, 2013

Microsoft's Kinect, depth cameras and other motion-tracking devices allow you to interact with computer games, however it is still not natural because you can't feel anything. Disney Research, Pittsburgh, has developed a solution that could enables users to feel virtual objects, experience dynamically varying textures and receive feedback on full body gestures, all without requiring the user to wear special gloves or hold a physical device.

Called AIREAL, the new haptic technology uses controlled puffs of compressed air – something akin to smoke rings – to create the impression of a ball bouncing off a hand, of an arm tingling from the flutter of a butterfly's wings, or of the rippling of air as a seagull circles a user's head.

These ring of air can travel large distances while keeping its shape and speed. When the vortex hits a user's skin, the low pressure system inside a vortex collapses and imparts a force the user can feel. In addition, the technology for creating these effects is scalable and relatively inexpensive, said Ivan Poupyrev, senior research scientist at Disney Research, Pittsburgh. It can be attached to a mobile device, but you can also make it big enough to emit sensations that travel across multiple rooms, accordng to the researchers.

The AIREAL technology is almost entirely 3D printed using a 3D printed enclosure, flexible nozzle and a pan and tilt gimbal structure capable of a 75-degree targeting field. The 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.

A fully assembled AIREAL device. Aside from the motors and speakers, the majority of the device is 3D printed.

Images Credit: Disney Research

The researchers found that the vortices could be controlled effectively to a distance of 1½ meters, and could still be felt at more than twice that distance. The vortex generators are inexpensive, they noted, so several might be used to create effects. One challenge with vortices is they travel along a straight path. The researchers are working on a number of methods for controlling when and where a vortex stops moving.

This technology can have many potential applications. For example, by combining AIREAL with projection technology, 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. If the image of a ball of "fairy dust" is projected so that it appears to explode near a houseplant, AIREAL can make the plant's leaves move to react to the blast.

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

This research findings will be demonstrated at ACM SIGGRAPH 2013, the International Conference on Computer Graphics and Interactive Techniques, July 21-25 in Anaheim, Calif.

Posted in 3D Printing Applications



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