Minority Report-style technology arrives: Introducing hands-free touch-screen 'ultrahaptics'

Bristol researchers debut touch-screen computers you don't have to touch

It goes by the decidedly unsexy name ‘ultrahaptics’, but a new technological prototype announced by researchers from the University of Bristol is reminiscent of the gloves Tom Cruise uses in sci-fi classic “Minority Report” – and is nothing short of astonishing.

The device is essentially a touchscreen so sensitive that a user doesn’t actually need to touch it. Instead, it is manipulated via the vibrations from soundwaves alone – and feedback from it can be ‘felt’ in mid air.

Ultrahaptics uses an array of tiny speakers – called ‘ultrasonic transducers’ – which use waves of ultrasound to create vibrations that can be felt at quite precise points in mid-air. And now engineers at the Bristol Interaction and Graphics group have found a way to beam the signals through a screen, creating an invisible layer of vibrations above it and allowing it to be used as a computer interface.

Haptic feedback is something you’ll be familiar with from smartphones and game controllers. It’s what happens when you press a virtual button on a smartphone screen, for instance, touch-sense feedback that tells you when you’ve done something.

However, this new technology represents something of a breakthrough in the field, which has always previously required physical contact with the device feeding back.

Tom Carter, a PhD student with the BIG research group, told The Engineer that there were plenty of possible applications for the new technology, including in things like in-car sat-navs for drivers who don’t want to take their eyes off the road.

"Even if you provide [haptic] feedback on a touch screen you have to fumble around pressing all the buttons, whereas with our system you can wave your hand vaguely in the air and you’ll get the feeling on the hand,” he said.

“We can give different points of feeling at the same time that feel different so you can assign a meaning to them. So the “play” button feels different from the “volume” button and you can feel them just by waving your hand.”

It works in a quite simple fashion. Waves of ultrasound are projected above the screen and displace the air, creating a pressure difference. This is called acoustic radiation pressure. By focussing ultrasound waves at a specific point in mid-air, a noticeable pressure difference is created. Then the device creates a focal point by triggering the ultrasound tranducers with specific phase delays so that all sound waves arrive at the point concurrently.

We perceive the waves as vibration on the skin, and by varying the modulation frequency or pulsing the feedback, different 'textures' can be created. And by giving each feedback point a different modulation frequency, different feedback is produced, allowing different textures to be applied to the user at the same time, potentially allowing for a range of mid-air sensations.

Arrays of ultrahaptic transistors - a screen is placed on top (Tom Carter)

The technology is still in its infancy, but researchers are developing ideas, including mid-air gestures, and layers of tactile information hovering over displays. If all goes to plan, it could usher in the kind of technology used by Tom Cruise’s character in the film “Minority Report”, in which he’s seen manipulating complex layers of crime-scene information on glass at a distance, using special gloves.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
News
Teeth should be brushed twice a day to prevent tooth decay
education
News
Bryan Cranston as Walter White, in the acclaimed series 'Breaking Bad'
news
Sport
footballChelsea 6 Maribor 0: Blues warm up for Premier League showdown with stroll in Champions League - but Mourinho is short of strikers
News
Those who were encouraged to walk in a happy manner remembered less negative words
science
Arts and Entertainment
Princess Olga in 'You Can't Get the Staff'
tvReview: The anachronistic aristocrats, it seemed, were just happy to have some attention
News
Renee Zellweger as Bridget Jones
i100
Life and Style
tech

Board creates magnetic field to achieve lift

News
There have been various incidents of social media users inadvertently flouting the law
news

Life and Style
Stack ‘em high?: quantity doesn’t always trump quality, as Friends of the Earth can testify
techThe proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
News
Bourgogne wine maker Laboure-Roi vice president Thibault Garin (L) offers the company's 2013 Beaujolais Nouveau wine to the guest in the wine spa at the Hakone Yunessun spa resort facilities in Hakone town, Kanagawa prefecture, some 100-kilometre west of Tokyo
i100
Sport
CSKA Moscow celebrate after equalising with a late penalty
footballCSKA Moscow 2 Manchester City 2: Premier League champions let two goal lead slip in Russia
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Gadgets & Tech

    IT Project Manager

    Competitive: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Chelmsford a...

    Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

    £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

    Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

    £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

    IT Manager

    £40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

    Day In a Page

    Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

    A new American serial killer?

    Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
    Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

    Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

    Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
    Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

    Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

    Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
    Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

    Wildlife Photographer of the Year

    Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
    Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

    Want to change the world? Just sign here

    The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
    Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

    'You need me, I don’t need you'

    Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
    How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

    How to Get Away with Murder

    Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
    A cup of tea is every worker's right

    Hard to swallow

    Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
    Which animals are nearly extinct?

    Which animals are nearly extinct?

    Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
    12 best children's shoes

    Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

    Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
    Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

    Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

    Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
    Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

    Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

    Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
    Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

    Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

    Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
    British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

    British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

    Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
    Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

    Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

    UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London