Disney Research has found a way to make thin air tactile. Called Aireal, the device is a low cost, scalable haptic technology that can work in a number of ways. It can be used to create a sensation of touching virtual objects, textures and gain feedback on full body gestures. It is perhaps significant that these do not require the user to wear a full body suit, but rather work independently.
The system uses a vortex ring of air for its haptic technology. A vortex can travel a good distance without losing its shape or speed, eventually imparting the sensation to the user. A depth camera mounted on the device communicates with the PC controlling the application that responds by changing its aim towards the location of the target.
A significant part of the device is 3D printed, including the enclosure, flexible nozzle and a pan and tilt gimbal structure that can move to adjust the nozzle’s position towards the target. Uses for the device could be in the fields of gesture control, mobile interfaces, and of course, gaming and storytelling.