LAS VEGAS - It's the pretty rare product at CES that makes me buzz with excitement, but this one did - literally. Ultrahaptics is a groundbreaking new technology that delivers tactile sensations in mid-air. That's right, you don't need to touch a screen or anything at all. I got a quick demo at this U.K.-based startup's booth, and found the technology captivating.
Although it's still in early stages, Ultrahaptics could change the way we interact with PCs, mobile devices and also bring more realism to virtual reality applications.
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How does it work? Using an 16 x 16-inch grid of ultrasound transducers directly in front of a laptop, Ultrahaptics reflects air pressure waves off of your hand, which creates a tactile sensation for your fingertips. The company paired a Leap Motion device with its own for various demos, so I could see my hand moving in a 3D space while I felt buzzing around my fingers.
During one demo, I moved my hand above Ultrahaptics' transducer peripheral placed in front of a MacBook to change the volume on a virtual dial. As I moved my hand clockwise and counterclockwise, I could feel each click as I raised and lowered the level. CEO Steve Cliffe explained that this scenario might take place in a car.
Ultrahaptics also let me try a bubble demo, during which bubbles floated up to meet my hand and I could feel each bubble pop as it reached my fingers. Last but not least, I checked out a Brickbreaker-like game. I moved my hand to move the paddle, and I felt a vibration as the ball reached the paddle.
Immersion and other companies have had haptic technology for years, but to feel the tactile sensation you need to touch a display, whether you're typing or playing a game. Ultrahaptics wants to bring that same level of interaction to other activities, including integrating with VR headsets. Imagine wearing an Oculus Rift and using your hands as the controller, getting real-time feedback as you watched a movie or played a game.
It's clear that Ultrahaptics isn't yet ready for market, but the company is in talks with everyone from automakers to PC makers, and we could see some of the first Ultrahaptics-enabled products reach consumers by the end of the year or beginning of 2016.