Invisible haptics extend to AR/VR

November 23, 2016 // By Julien Happich
Early November, Bristol-based startup Ultrahaptics introduced a development platform for companies to evaluate its ultrasound-based 3D mid-air haptics technology. EETimes Europe caught up with the company's CTO and co-founder Tom Carter to get an insight on the technology's latest developments.

Ultrasonic beam forming for haptics.

The development platform features 192 piezo-electric ultrasound transducers (just under 14x14 units) forming an active matrix approximately 14 by 14 centimetres and about 10mm thick. When cleverly driven using proprietary beam-forming algorithms (involving time delays between adjacent transducers), phase shifts in the emitted ultrasounds are arranged so that peaks of ultrasound pressure can be felt several centimetres away from the solid interface, shaped nearly arbitrarily.

The invisible shapes created out of ultrasounds can be felt by hand and be accurately interpreted as virtual buttons, switches, dials or any other virtual object programmed by Ultrahaptics.

Ultrahaptics CTO, Tom Carter

As he anticipated about 18 months ago, Carter confirmed the technology has been adopted by a number of OEMs for their products. "Some consumer products have been designed with our technology, they are finished and pretty much ready to go, but it is really up to the companies to make it public. It is at the whim of their product marketing departments, probably in the next few weeks" Carter said.

The CTO wouldn't even let us know what sort of products Ultrahaptics is getting into, but judging from the size and thickness of the current solution, most probably large-sized items such as white goods.

"The size of the hardware is a factor that determines which are the products where we can apply our technology" conceded Carter, "the smaller we can make it, the wider the market of course, but for now you won't find it in laptops or mobiles, there isn't enough space for it" he added.




Ultrahaptics demonstration with visual feedback.

"But we've made a lot of progress and we think we can shrink further our technology by an order of magnitude, with proprietary piezo-electric devices we could reach a solution about 1mm thick and cheaper too".