Aireal Airgun Lets Players "Feel" Virtual Objects


There's some truly startling technological developments making their way into the world of gaming. We've got VR headsets, omni-directional treadmills, and haptics feedback bodysuits. We've seen motion control evolve from a rudimentary technology to an iron-clad innovation. People are bloody well playing pong with their minds. Pardon the pun, but it's positively mind-blowing.

I'm so sorry.I'm so sorry.

Let's get back on track.

I'd like you to imagine, if you would, that you're playing an RPG - Skyrim, for example. You've just stepped out from the depths of a bandit's cavern. As you leave, you feel a few snowflakes gently settling on your cheeks. The wind ruffles your hair, and you kneel, running your fingers through some grass. The blades tickle your palm. 

By the way, you're actually experiencing all this yourself as you play. 

This past week, Disney Research unveiled a new technology known as Aireal, an augmented air-gun that allows users to actually 'feel' virtual objects in the air in front of them.

How it works is that the gun itself is attached to a depth camera. This camera directs the gun, which fires concentrated, doughnut-shaped puffs of air which coincide with the objects represented on-screen. It sounds somewhat rudimentary, but it's not - these puffs of air can be delicate and accurate enough that they can be used to represent the fluttering of a butterfly's wings on a player's arm.  By combining multiple Aireals, explain the researchers, a user can be given sensations such as a flock of seagulls flapping around their head. The gun can even be directed at other objects in the environment, to simulate things such as breezes or gusts of wind. 

This, in turn, opens up some very real (and incredibly exciting) opportunities in the world of motion control, and tackles one of its greatest weaknesses: a lack of tactile feedback. Free-air haptics could thus eventually serve to simulate the control console of a vehicle, the position of a ball, or even the impact of a strike in a heated battle. They could potentially work to create the feel of a tangible physical environment where there exists none, creating an interactive experience with richness never before seen elsewhere. 


In other words, Kinect will finally be good for something!In other words, Kinect will finally be good for something!

Even better, it could do all this without the need for bulky peripherals or add-ons. The implications of such a technology in the realm of gaming should be clear - as should the implications outside of gaming. Video games aren't the only medium which could potentially be revolutionized by Aireal. The developers are acutely aware of this fact. 

"As the technology matures," explained lead author Rajinder Sodhi, "we envision that consumer electronic devices, as well as everyday environments, would have free-air haptic devices pre-installed and therefore become completely invisible to the users." 

And you thought Disney was only good at making movies.

Well...relatively speaking, anyway.Well...relatively speaking, anyway.

Aireal will be presented at the 2013 SIGGRAPH conference this week. Check out further details on said conference here. You can also download a technical paper about Aireal, if you're so inclined.