Disney succeeds in creating haptic feedback on air using its AIREAL technology


Virtual objects or interactions make users feel like being in a different world.But what makes it incomplete is the sense that they get or feel from the real world objects. Technology world calls this technique of making the user feel a virtual object as haptic feedback. One basic haptic feedback that many would be using is on the touchscreen keypad of mobiles.Though there is no physical keypad, the vibration generated on the device makes the user feel that he has actually pressed a button.

Coming to the AIREAL, it is a research project of Disney Research, which aims at providing haptic feedback to users by creating a force on air and generates a vortex (a ring of air that can travel large distances while keeping its shape and speed). This vortex when incident on the user, gives a feel as if a physical contact is made on him, though there isn’t an actual contact.


With the interactive gaming devices like Microsoft’s Kinect and Nintendo’s Wii controllers, users get a visual fedback but they do not feel anything and their gaming experience is not complete without feel.They do not know what move they actually made until the response is seen visually on the game. What if the user could feel the sense of hitting a ball approaching him? this kind of haptic feed back is what AIREAL delivers.

You would be impressed to know that the device used by the AIREAL technology is made out of 3D printing technology.The physics of the swirling ring of air known as a vortex enables the vortex to maintain its shape and energy over relatively long distances and makes it possible to target the vortex accurately. The Disney Research, Pittsburgh researchers produced air vortex generators by using five 2-inch speakers as actuators to create a pulse of air that is directed through a 3D-printed flexible nozzle. The pulse of air forms into a ring as it exits the nozzle. Actuators move the nozzle as necessary to direct the vortices at the user. It can be controlled to targets within a 1 and a half meter range.


The applications of this technology can be on gaming, interactive systems, multi dimensional movie experience and more where such feedback is necessary.

Sodhi, a Ph.D. student in computer science at the University of Illinois, and the lead researcher for the AIREAL project said, “One of our long-term visions is to create complete 3D shapes in the air. Imagine holding out your hand and feeling someone’s face. This will start truly eroding the boundary between real and virtual”.

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