Depth cameras and other motion-tracking devices allow people to use natural gestures to play computer games, yet the experience remains unnatural because the users can’t feel what their eyes can see. Disney Research has developed a solution that could enhance not only games, but a variety of virtual experiences. Called AIREAL, the new 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.
Unlike jets of air, which are hard to maintain and control over long distances, rings of air, called vortices, can travel relatively long distances without dissipating and can be targeted with accuracy. By varying the intensity, frequency and position of the pulses, a number of tactile effects can be created, including objects with textured surfaces and force feedback for gestures.
The effects are literally created out of free air, removing the need for people to wear special gloves or vests, hold haptic devices or sit in instrumented chairs. Furthermore, the technology is scalable and relatively inexpensive, making it suitable for large groups of people and for an individual at home.