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Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Game Controllers with a Sense of Touch?

Will ultrasound make game controllers obsolete?
Japanese researchers feel the vibration.

By Ben Silverman

Looking for the Next Big Thing in immersive gaming? So are some clever scientists from the University of Tokyo.

And they might have found it.

According to the BBC, Professor Takayuki Iwamoto and his team of researchers have invented a system that harnesses the power of ultrasonic waves to create touchable virtual objects out of thin air.

The concept draws from the burgeoning field of haptics, which studies ways to integrate computing power and our sense of touch. Using an array of ultrasonic transducers and a camera that tracks hand position, the system focuses the pressure of sound waves into mid-air shapes that users can actually feel with their bare hands. In the past, feeling such sensations required using specially-designed gloves or other mechanical devices.

For haptics researcher Stephen Brewster, it's kind of a big deal.

"You can feel it with both hands, rather than having just a single point of contact, and multiple people can use it at the same time," he told the BBC. "The kinds of things we use are connected through mechanical arms or you're wearing some kind of exoskeleton. It's great to have something that you can just walk up and use and not need any other kind of hardware you have to hold or wear."

Such tech could obviously have major implications on gaming. Current controllers for the Xbox 360 and PS3 give gamers feedback in the form of relatively dated "rumble" technology, which vibrates the controller itself in response to in-game events. Nintendo's motion-sensing Wii remote goes a step further by allowing users to directly control on-screen objects by simply waving the device, although it too is limited in its tactile feedback.

Think ultrasound manipulation is too good to be true? Don't tell that to the research team -- they've already "received several proposals from industrial companies" interested in exploring the technology. Wonder if that includes Nintendo...

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