How to feel phantom objects floating in air

July 21, 2013
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The Aireal bird flock (credit: Rajinder Sodhi, Ivan Poupyrev, Disney Reseach)

A groundbreaking project called Aireal lets you feel virtual objects, Fast Company reports.

Aireal is the result of research by University of Illinois PhD student Rajinder Sodhi and Disney Reseach’s Ivan Poupyrev. When set by your television or connected to an iPad, this diminutive machine will puff air rings that allow you to actually feel objects and textures in midair — no special controllers or gloves required.

The machine itself is essentially a set of five speakers in a box — subwoofers that track your body through IR, then fire low frequencies through a nozzle to form donut-like vortices.

In practice, Aireal can do anything from creating a button for you to touch in midair to crafting whole textures by pulsing its bubbles to mimic water, stone, and sand. … A single Aireal could conceivably support multiple people, and a grid of Aireals could create extremely immersive rooms, creating sensations like a flock of birds flying by. [...]