Disney Looking To Add Sense Of touch To Gaming
July 19, 2013

Researchers Add ‘Sense Of Touch’ To Gaming Experience

Lee Rannals for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online

Disney Research has developed a method to engage the sense of touch to add to the interactive gaming experience.

A new technology called AIREAL uses controlled puffs of compressed air to create the impression of a ball bouncing off a hand, a tingling from the flutter of a butterfly's wing, or the rippling of air as a seagull circles a user's head.

Scientists used vortices for the virtual experience, which can travel longer distances than jet streams and be targeted more accurately. They were able to create a number of tactile effects, including objects with textured surfaces and force feedback for gestures.

"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 in her living room."

Rajinder Sodhi, the lead researcher for the AIREAL project, said creating haptic displays in free air has been a long-standing challenge, but one that has gained urgency with the advent of Microsoft's Kinect depth camera and Nintendo's Wii controller and the gesture-controlled games they enable.

"One of the big challenges in these games is that you get visual feedback, but you can't feel anything," Sodhi said.

The Disney Research team was able to use five two-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 and is able to maintain its shape and energy over a relatively long distance.

The team found that the vortices could be controlled effectively to a distance of a few feet, and could be felt at more than twice that distance. They said the generators are inexpensive, so several might be used to create effects. 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," Sodhi said. "One of our long-term visions is to create complete 3D shapes in the air. Imagine holding out your hand and feeling someone's face. This will start truly eroding the boundary between real and virtual".

Virtual reality is not a new concept, but is gaining more and more ground lately. Scientists have even suggested that virtual avatars could help put a dent in the growing obesity epidemic.