Now You Can Touch Virtual Objects

Andrew Lampard
This Could Be Big

Efforts to create virtual reality in video games have been well documented. But what about making virtual objects touchable?

At Disney Research Labs in Pittsburgh, engineers are doing just that with two separate tactile projects that employ haptic technology. Haptics stimulate touch sensations, making virtual objects feel real.

The first project is called Aireal (think “air-real”), which delivers tactile air bursts in mid air. These air bursts, created by powerful sound compressions, correspond with virtual balls on a monitor so it feels like the on-screen ball is hitting you when you touch them. Likewise, when you swat the air burst, the on-screen ball is also swatted. All of this is accomplished without a wearable device.

The second tactile project, called Tesla Touch, allows you to touch objects on your tablet. When you swipe your finger over an image of sand, you can feel the friction of the grains. This is accomplished by exciting an electrode with an electric signal, which creates friction when a finger touches the screen.

Both projects are part of a haptic research push at Disney Research Labs in Pittsburgh, which conducts top-secret R&D for the Walt Disney Company (ABC News is a Walt Disney Company subsidiary).

To see demonstrations of these technologies, and to learn just how exactly they work, watch the video above.