There is a lot of really interesting technology being worked on lately and I just saw something really interesting from Disney Research Labs in Pittsburgh called AIREAL. It create a series of directed, small rings of air that lets users actually feel virtual objects, experience dynamically varying textures and receive feedback on full body gestures all without the user wearing any physical device. It uses a vortex of air because it can travel large distances while keeping its shape and speed but when the vortex hits a user’s skin, the low pressure system inside a vortex collapses and imparts a force the user can feel.
The system is entirely 3D printed using a 3D printed enclosure, flexible nozzle and a pan and tilt gimbal structure capable of a 75-degree targeting field. Five actuators are mounted around the enclosure which displaces the air through a flexible nozzle and into the physical environment. Its really interesting to think about the design possibilities for technologies like this that are working to break digital experiences free of the screen into tactile feedback technologies for gaming and story telling, mobile interfaces, and gesture control interfaces. You can watch the video above to see it in action.