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Is air power gaming’s Next Big Thing?

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(Credit: Disney)

Motion-control sensors like Microsoft’s Kinect seem great on paper, but it turns out waving your hands to interact with virtual objects is only half the experience. The other half? Actually feeling what you’re virtually touching.

Enter Disney Research and their new Aireal tech, essentially a system that shoots out rings of air to generate physical feedback when using motion sensing controllers.

Built in part with 3D-printed components, the Aireal system incorporates a series of actuators and sensors to pump out tight vortices of air that, when properly focused and coupled with something like Kinect or Leap Motion, can deliver a physical component to virtual interaction.

“What makes this particularly exciting is that we can create these effects literally out of free air, without the need for people to wear special gloves or vests, hold haptic devices or sit in instrumented chairs,” said Ivan Poupyrev, senior research scientist at Disney Research, Pittsburgh. “The technology for creating these effects is scalable and relatively inexpensive, so we can envision using AIREAL to create magical experiences both for large groups of people and for an individual in her living room.”

The living room part isn’t likely to happen any time soon, however, as it’s still a long ways off from appearing anywhere outside of a Disney theme park. But the thought of combining this with a VR headset like the Oculus Rift is certainly compelling.

“One of our long-term visions is to create complete 3D shapes in the air,” said Disney Researcher Rajinder Sodhi. “Imagine holding out your hand and feeling someone’s face. This will start truly eroding the boundary between real and virtual.”

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