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UltraHaptics — Control Everything with Just the Wave of a Hand

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?

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