What is UltraHaptics up to and where is this taking us? Sound is a really fascinating thing. It’s just vibrations in space, which theoretical physicists think is what makes up all matter. If you’re an X‑Men fan you’ll remember Banshee, the guy who could cause destruction with his screams. The interesting thing is that his mutant ability mimics reality, but it’s not the volume of the scream so much as the frequency. In fact, some scientists have postured that the ancient Biblical story of the impenetrable walls of Jericho falling at the blast of a bunch of trumpets (or shofars) totally could have happened.
So back to the premise — sound is fascinating. And the applications now being developed in ultrasound (the frequencies that humans can’t hear) might be the next big evolution in virtual reality. Then again, they might also soon make it easier for you to drive your car without distractions or control your home stereo with virtual haptic controls.
A 70’s Throwback
In the 1970’s scientists explored the idea of using ultrasonic waves, or ultrasound, to create simulated tactile sensations or haptics - meaning feeling something that wasn’t actually there. But computers and programming weren’t there yet, and the idea was abandoned. Until recently. Now a 27 year old in England has rediscovered the idea and is using it mightily in his company, UltraHaptics.
Some examples in the works using his technology include car companies integrating it into their dashboards to give drivers virtual controls that appear in the air for the stereo, air conditioner, and more. With UltraHaptics technology the virtual controls don’t just appear, they can be “felt” even though they aren’t really there. This is accomplished by ultrasonic signals being sent out from the device to track and connect with your hand, giving you the sensation of touch without actually touching anything.
It’s easy to see to see how this fits into virtual reality. Right now you strap on a headset and out earphones on, and you see and hear your virtual surroundings as though you’re there. And although you can manipulate items within the virtual setting, you can’t actually feel the contact with them. UltraHaptics technology lets you feel as well as hear and see, adding another layer of “reality”.
UltraHaptics, “They’re” working on it
A number of companies have expressed interest and begun using the technology to develop products and services, but thanks to pesky non-disclosure agreements we don’t know exactly who or what. We do know, however, that BMW will have vehicles at the upcoming CES with interiors showing off holographic user interfaces with tactile feedback that operate suspiciously the same way UltraHaptic’s technology works.
But the applications of the technology could be pretty far-reaching, and the company has sold more than 50 developer kits (at $20,000 each) since its founding to people and companies looking to develop something with it. Like the group that created a tractor beam with it, that could be potentially used to remove kidney stones non-invasively (not to mention capturing the Millennium Falcon). As far as jobs go, UltraHaptics plans to double in size this year. But any person or company that wants to buy one of their kits could create the next world-changing application. Is that you?