Ultrasound Technique Produces 3D Holograms You Can Feel

Bristol University’s Interaction and Graphics Group (IGG) have developed a haptic feedback system that uses ultrasound to create free-floating 3D objects. The technique works by focusing sound waves into free-space that enables tangible interaction—this could see the technology applied to situations where direct contact with an object is neither possible or desirable.

Haptics is a long established physical concept that involves the sensory perception of touch (Shannon, 1973), and has been integrated into many modern devices, such as mobile phones and digital gaming systems (Xbox, Playstation, etc); although similar in principle, IGG’s new feedback system does not work through a solid, tangible, object like a games controller, but a projection or hologram. By using their special ultrasound system 3D objects can be scanned and recreated that, when touched, gives the perception of direct interaction with the object itself.

Bristol state that the new technology could initially be used for medical purposes although further diverse applications could also be created in the future: internal organs and/or tumours could be scanned and projected, external to a patient’s body, giving physicians an opportunity to explore the target before commencing any intrusive procedures.

To help provide a visual representation the team have projected their ultrasound system onto a specially prepared oil bath (see video). Depressions in the liquid can clearly be seen, indicating the three dimensional shapes that provide the haptic experience.

Although the technology is being developed primarily for medical purposes, alternative uses connected with virtual reality, archaeology, antiquity restoration and more interactive long range communications, can be envisaged.

As Dr Ben long, from the Bristol research team, describes: ‘Touchable holograms, immersive virtual reality that you can feel and complex touchable controls in free space are all possible ways of using this system. In the future, people could feel holograms of objects that would not otherwise be touchable, such as feeling the differences between materials in a CT scan or understanding the shapes of artefacts in a museum.’

This exciting development can be found on ACM Transactions on Graphics and, as stated on Bristol University’s website, will be presented at this years SIGGRAPH conference—currently in progress.

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Paul Hattle

As a strong advocate for science and learning, I am a passionate supporter of the 'Campaign for Science and Engineering' (CaSE) Fellow of the 'Royal Astronomical Society' (RAS) Associate Member of the 'Institute of Physics' (IOP) & 'The Institute of Scientific and Technical Communicators' (ISTC)

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