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Disney's crazy invention Aireal lets you feel phantom objects floating in air

July 22, 2013 | Telepresence Options

Disney Aireal


Story by Belinda Lanks / CoDesign

Disney's Crazy Invention Lets You Feel Phantom Objects Floating In Air

You know how Kinect lets you interact with virtual objects? A groundbreaking project called Aireal lets you feel them, too.

Microsoft's Kinect is an amazing device. It can track virtually any motion you make, allowing your real body to interact with an amazing invented world. There's just one catch: You can't actually feel anything.

Aireal�is the result of research by University of Illinois PhD student�Rajinder Sodhiand�Disney Reseach'sIvan Poupyrev. When set by your television or connected to an iPad, this diminutive machine will puff air rings that allow you to actually feel objects and textures in midair-no special controllers or gloves required.

"The sensation is quite pleasant," Poupyrev tells Co.Design. "It's not like air blowing onto your body. The air ring is a traveling low-pressure bubble. When it collapses, the air from outside rushes in, and it creates force at this particular point. It's [a] very localized, sharp puff of air."

The machine itself is essentially a set of five speakers in a box-subwoofers that track your body through IR, then fire low frequencies through a nozzle to form donut-like vortices (I imagine the system as a cigar-smoking Microsoft Kinect).

"You have an enclosure with a hole, and you push the air out rapidly," Poupyrev explains. "Because of the friction, some molecules of the air move slower than others. So it spins, and the ring will fly in a stable direction."

In practice, Aireal can do anything from creating a button for you to touch in midair to crafting whole textures by pulsing its bubbles to mimic water, stone, and sand. This is all very neat, but maybe even more important, Aireal has an inherent convenience factor. A single Aireal could conceivably support multiple people, and a grid of Aireals could create extremely immersive rooms, creating sensations like a flock of birds flying by. And for the end user, taking part is never more complicated than standing somewhere. It's capable of creating a virtual tactile environment without forcing everyone to strap on strange peripherals.

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