We have created holograms that can be touched: you will soon be able to shake hands with a virtual partner

The TV show Star Trek: The Next Generation introduced millions of people to the idea of ​​a holodeck: an immersive and realistic 3D holographic projection of a complete environment with which one could interact and even touch it.

In the 21st century, holograms are already used in a variety of ways, such as medical systems, education, art, security, and defense. Scientists are still developing ways to use lasers, modern digital processors, and motion detection technologies to create various types of holograms that could change the way we interact.

My colleagues and I, who work in the research group on flexible electronics and sensing technologies at the University of Glasgow, have now developed a system of holograms of people using “aeroptics,” creating sensations of contact with light rays. ‘air. These rays of air provide a sense of touch to people’s fingers, hands and wrists.

Over time, this could develop to allow you to meet a virtual avatar of a colleague from the other side of the world and feel them really shake hands. They might even be the first steps toward building something like a holobert bridge.

To create that sense of touch, we use affordable, available commercial pieces to combine computer-generated graphics with carefully directed and controlled air jets.

Read more: Five Amazing Ways to Revolutionize the Hologram World

In a way, it’s a step beyond the current generation of virtual reality, which typically requires headphones to provide 3D graphics and smart gloves or handheld controllers to provide haptic feedback, a stimulation that seems tactile. Most portable gadget-based approaches are limited to controlling the virtual object being displayed.

Controlling a virtual object does not give the feeling you would experience when two people touch it. Adding an artificial touch sensation can provide an extra dimension without having to wear gloves to feel objects and therefore feel much more natural.

If you press a button, the user may feel a pressure that feels tactile.
University of Glasgow, Author provided

Using glasses and mirrors

Our research uses graphics that provide the illusion of a 3D virtual image. It is a modern variation of a 19th-century illusion technique known as Pepper’s Ghost, which thrilled Victorian theater-goers with visions of the supernatural on stage.

The system uses glass and mirrors to make a two-dimensional image appear gliding in space without the need for any additional equipment. And our haptic feedback is only created with air.

The mirrors that make up our system are arranged in a pyramid shape with an open side. Users run their hands over the open side and interact with computer-generated objects that appear to float in free space within the pyramid. Objects are graphics created and controlled by a program called Unity Game Engine, which is often used to create 3D objects and worlds in video games.

Located just below the pyramid is a sensor that tracks the movements of users ’hands and fingers, and a single air nozzle, which directs air jets toward them to create complex tactile sensations. The general system is driven by electronic hardware programmed to control the movements of the nozzles. We developed an algorithm that allowed the air nozzle to respond to the movements of users ’hands with the right combinations of direction and force.

One of the ways we have demonstrated the capabilities of the “aerospace” system is with an interactive basketball projection, which can be played, rolled and bounced convincingly. The tactile feedback of the system’s air jets is also modulated based on the basketball’s virtual surface, allowing users to feel the rounded shape of the ball as it rolls from its fingertips as it bounces and slaps into the palm. when he returns.

Even users can push the virtual ball with variable force and perceive the resulting difference in how a hard bounce or a soft bounce on the palm feels. Even something as seemingly simple as blowing up a basketball required us to work hard to model the physics of the action and how we could replicate that familiar feeling with jets of air.

Smells of the future

While we don’t expect to offer a full Star Trek holodeck experience in the near future, we’re already bravely heading in new directions to add additional features to the system. Soon, we hope to be able to modify the airflow temperature to allow users to feel hot or cold surfaces. We also explore the possibility of adding scents to the airflow, delving into the illusion of virtual objects allowing users to smell and touch them.

As the system expands and develops, we hope it can find uses in a wide range of sectors. Offering more absorbing video game experiences without having to carry heavy equipment is obvious, but it can also allow for more compelling teleconferencing. You can even take turns adding components to a virtual circuit board while collaborating on a project.

It could also help doctors collaborate on treatments for patients and make patients feel more involved and informed in the process. Doctors could see, hear, and discuss the characteristics of tumor cells and show patients plans for a medical procedure.

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