Wednesday November 22nd 2017

Feeling Objects that Aren’t There

BigSphere

Imagine this. You wake up in the morning to the irritating buzz of your alarm. Instead of fumbling for a snooze button, you wave your hand in the air in the general direction of the clock. There, in mid-air, you find it: an invisible button. It’s an illusion you can feel, like a hologram for your fingers. One swipe at the button, and the alarm shuts off. You’re free to sleep for a few more minutes — even though you never touched the clock.

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.

 

Read more about Ultrahaptics in my Science News for Students article, here.

 

Photo credit: Tom Carter / Ultrahaptics

Previous Topic:
Next Topic:

More from category

The quantum world is mind-bogglingly weird
The quantum world is mind-bogglingly weird

If you’re interested in the smallest things known to scientists, there’s something you should know. They are [Read More]

Auto-focus eyeglasses rely on liquid lenses
Auto-focus eyeglasses rely on liquid lenses

With round lenses set in super-thick frames, these new eyeglasses look like they belong on a cartoon character. But [Read More]

The Internet of Things wants to link all facets of our world
The Internet of Things wants to link all facets of our world

A 94Fifty looks like an ordinary basketball. You can inflate, dribble, pass, shoot, swoosh and slam-dunk it. But [Read More]

Star Trek technology becomes more science than fiction
Star Trek technology becomes more science than fiction

Fifty years ago, the first episode of Star Trek aired. It started as a quirky science-fiction television show that [Read More]

A woman’s place is in science
A woman’s place is in science

Last October in a noisy ballroom in Nashville, Tenn., six girls sat at a round table to design a spacecraft that could [Read More]

Archives