Feeling Non-Existing Objects!

Feeling Non-Existing Objects!

Feeling Non-Existing Objects!

Can you imagine? You wake up in the morning with your alarm clock. Instead of fumbling for a snooze button, you raise your hand and find the invisible button in the air. It’s an illusion you can feel, like a hologram for your fingers, swipe at the button, and the alarm shuts off. The science of touch is called haptics. Sriram Subramanian describes the floating alarm clock button as one example of how a new technology called “ultrahaptics” might be used. “It does seem a bit far-fetched,” admits this computer scientist at the University of Sussex in England. But, he quickly adds, such a device is possible. Researchers in his lab now create virtual, three-dimensional objects that people can feel.

The secret to their success — sound waves. Actually, it's no secret. A growing number of researchers around the world are investigating how sound waves can be used to simulate touch. These sound waves are ultrasonic. That means they’re so high-pitched people can’t hear them. At the same time, they’re strong enough to put pressure on human skin and trigger the sensation of touch. Scientists can change the location and shape of a tactile (touch) illusion by adjusting the sound waves, focusing them on a particular spot.

Hiroyuki Shinoda, an engineer at the University of Tokyo in Japan, has been studying haptics for decades. In 2008, he became one of the first people to use ultrasonic waves to float virtual objects in midair. Since then, he has looked for ways for real and virtual objects to interact. He thinks that ultimately, the approach could help people connect with each other. For example, the technology might simulate the sensation of touching another person — like holding hands.

Subramanian says the idea of floating, three-dimensional illusions can inspire the imagination. Even though he developed the technology, he's confident people will find other creative ways to use it. Fellow scientists, entrepreneurs and politicians flock to his lab. And immediately they become inspired.

“Everybody comes up with their own uses,” says Subramanian. “It’s amazing.”

I am just hoping this amazing science will be used only for human benefits.

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