Disney's new "Aireal" tech uses bursts of compressed air to simulate a physical object in a virtual game.
Playing Wii tennis was pretty fun, until people discovered that you could just wildly flail the wiimote and get a better score than someone who was actually mimicking tennis strokes. The key reasoning behind this was that you couldn't physically feel the tennis ball. This is a problem that may be a thing of the past, thanks to a new technology called "Aireal" from the Disney Research labs. Aireal is a new haptic technology that lets users feel virtual objects in the air in front of them, as well as providing tactile feedback on various gestures.
The technology works by directing bursts of air to places in space which coincide with the virtual object being represented. Aireal works with a depth camera and whatever application is running to figure out where to direct the air, which it shoots out in doughnut-shaped vortices akin to fast, focused smoke rings. Simply put, it blows compressed air into your hands that simulates whatever object you are supposed to be holding or hitting.
The tech is crazy precise too. Researchers on the project boast that the frequency and strength of the air pulses can be modified to match the beating of a virtual butterfly's wings on a person's arm. A video demonstration shows someone playing a game of virtual volleyball, as well as several Aireals being used in conjunction to simulate a flock of seagulls flying by.
"As the technology matures, we envision that consumer electronic devices, as well as everyday environments, would have free-air haptic devices pre-installed and therefore become completely invisible to the users," project lead Rajinder Sodhi suggests.