What Star Trek fans haven’t longed for a chance to play on the Holodeck, the show’s fictional device that allowed users to experience life-like virtual reality in 3D. Such sophisticated technology does not yet exist, but researchers in England have designed a device that produces 3D animated objects that can talk and interact with participants, The Guardian reported.
The device uses a field of ultrasound waves that levitate a 2-millimeter-wide plastic bead. The bead traces shapes in the air as it zooms around the field at speeds of 20 mph. At such high speeds, the brain cannot comprehend the moving bead but instead sees the shape it creates.
In the study, published in Nature on Nov. 13, the scientists added color to the objects by shining LED lights on the bead as it whizzed around the field. They also added clear speech and music by vibrating the bead as it zoomed about. By manipulating very precise patterns of ultrasound waves on users’ hands, the researchers produced sensations that felt identical to touching the object.
Sriram Subramanian, one of the researchers, told The Guardian the device could lead to new forms of visual entertainment. “Let’s say you want to create a Harry Potter experience. You could put your hand out to cast a spell, and as you move your hand you could see and feel a glowing ball growing in your palm, and we could have sound coming from it too,” he said.
Ryuji Hirayama, who helped build the device, said the technology could also enable users to reach out and touch someone: “I believe that in the future, such displays will allow us to interact with our family and friends as if they are close by so you can see, touch and hear them,” he said. —J.B.