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The virtual reality “industry” is just starting to take off, with yesterday being the first day that consumers could buy a consumer-ready (though still early) version of the Samsung Gear VR headset. With Samsung’s Gear VR partner, Oculus VR, getting closer to releasing a consumer version of its Rift headset every day, creating immersive virtual worlds is becoming a prime subject of inquiry and discovery among researchers – and that’s what has brought us one of the coolest new innovations in that field: the creation of 3D haptic shapes, or “touchable holograms.”

Researchers at the University of Bristol have figured out a way to create touchable shapes in the air using ultrasonic sound waves. Helpfully explained in a post on 3D Printing Industry, the method is called “acoustic radiation force,” which is the idea that patterns of ultrasonic waves can be determined based on how they’re absorbed by different mediums. That concept’s being used here with a person’s skin behaving as the medium. A person can determine the shape of a group of sound waves based on the absorption of those waves on the skin. Shapes can also be seen in the air, because (I believe) of the way the waves interact with the air molecules.

In short, while this “touchable hologram” idea isn’t much more than a concept right now, I can easily see this technology advancing to a point where it finds its way into everyday use. If you’ve watched any of the Iron Man movies, or Agents of SHIELD, you’ve seen people interact with computers via hologram UIs, a science fiction concept that’s approaching reality. The ability to add in haptic feedback – giving a user something to actually touch while they’re touching the images – makes that technology even more viable and amazing.

Does that mean that Oculus is only the first wave of the virtual reality revolution? Will haptic, touchable holograms come next, and help create a real life holodeck? Can I have that happen, like, right now?

[Source: 3D Printing Industry via TechCrunch]

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