LAS VEGAS -- I touched the future. It felt weird, but in a good way.
This happened today (Jan. 10) at CES 2018 during my meeting with Meta, one of only two companies working with high-end augmented reality. The company impressed me last year during SXSW with the Meta 2 headset. But Meta has stepped up its game for CES, adding haptic feedback via partners ZeroLight and Ultrahaptics. That means you can literally reach out and touch your hologram.
Nothing has changed with the Meta 2 since SXSW; the real news is that developers are starting to create apps for the hardware.
For our demonstration, I got to pick out the paint job on an insanely expensive Pagani Huayra Roadster hypercar. (ZeroLight specializes in virtual visualizations of automobiles.) To swap colors, I had to reach out and select one of the hues floating around the car.
As my finger came in contact with the colors to swipe or select, I felt a strong tickle against the palm of my hand -- even though there was nothing in actually in front of me. This feature immediately added a level of immersion that I rarely encounter in virtual reality, and had never before experienced in AR.
This digital sorcery is made possible by Ultrahaptics. Using ultrasound, Ultrahaptics creates sensations in mid-air, sending vibrations to your hand to simulate touching physical objects.
As I continued through the ZeroLight demo, I took a look under the hood of the Pagani and stared at the Roadster's exquisitely designed engine. I placed my hand on top of the hologram, only to hear it rev and feel the vibration of all the horsepower vibrating through my fingers.
Although I knew the car wasn't really there, the crisp graphics from the Meta 2 headset, coupled with the ultrasonic vibrations, successfully fooled my mind into believing the improbable.
Meta 2 is setting a high bar for the futures of both augmented reality and virtual reality. The ability to literally reach out and touch something that isn't really there is a feature both platforms need. Incorporating such a powerful sense is absolutely necessary to create total immersion. I'll be excited to see what Meta, Ultrahaptics and ZeroLight have in store going forward.