Tiny Bubbles and Force Fields: Feeling the Virtual World With Ultrasound

I pushed my hand forward, palm down, until I could see it on the laptop screen. My real-life hand interrupted a virtual stream of bubbles that I felt gently popping against my palm.

Wow. I left my hand there for a long time—the touch of bubbles popping is actually quite pleasant, particularly in a virtual world, where you’re not getting wet and slimy from bubble soap.

That was my introduction to Ultrahaptics’ ultrasound peripheral for computing devices. Executives from the U.K.-based company were roaming Silicon Valley last week, meeting with researchers from virtual reality and automotive companies and getting ready to start hiring for a Silicon Valley office.

My colleague Evan Ackerman saw an earlier demo at CES: a stove that lets you feel virtual burner controls above the surface. Since then, the company has dramatically improved the resolution at which it can generate virtual objects—from 200 frames per second to 10,000 frames per second. That allows the user to feel distinct textures, not just the general sense that something is virtually there. And this week, the company will start taking preorders for a $2000 developers’ kit—a big price drop from its $20,000 evaluation kit that it expects will get many more applications creators working with its technology.

CEO Steve Cliffe says Ultrahaptics sold those evaluation kits to automotive manufacturers (for audio and other system controls),…[Read more]