Aireal: Disney tests air-flow tactile gaming technology

Disney shows off its tactile, interactive air device - video courtesy of Disney Research

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Gamers could be able to feel the thwack of a ball or bullets whooshing past their faces if Disney's experimental air-flow technology takes off.

Dubbed Aireal, the technology allows users to feel physical feedback from virtual images without having to wear gloves, belts or vests.

Puffs of compressed air blown at different strengths and speeds simulate tactile experiences, the inventors say.

It is the latest innovation in haptic - or tactile - technology.

Air vortices pumped through 3D-printed flexible nozzles directed by motion sensors can simulate anything from the gentle flap of a butterfly's wings to the hard impact of a ball hitting the hand, say developers at the University of Illinois and Disney Research.

But the technology is at a very early stage of development.

While motion sensors have allowed gamers to interact with 2D screens without the need for hand-held controllers, haptics aims to make these virtual experiences tactile as well.

"This is obviously just a proof of concept at this stage," said Prof Vic Grout, head of computing at Glyndwr University. "But it could have some very interesting applications in the gaming and non-gaming worlds.

"Most people interact more naturally with computer systems through touch or movement, and gesture-controlled interfaces are now well established.

"The big breakthrough for Disney's technology will come if they can make it mobile."

Disney was showing off its new technology at the Siggraph conference in Anaheim, California.

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