The research, led by Dr Ben Long and colleagues Professor Sriram Subramanian, Sue Ann Seah and Tom Carter from the University of Bristol, created a method that produces 3D shapes that can be felt in mid-air.
"Touchable holograms, immersive virtual reality that you can feel and complex touchable controls in free space, are all possible ways of using this system," said Long, Research Assistant from the Bristol Interaction and Graphics (BIG) group in the Department of Computer Science.
"In the future, people could feel holograms of objects that would not otherwise be touchable, such as feeling the differences between materials in a CT scan or understanding the shapes of artefacts in a museum," Long said.
The method uses ultrasound, which is focused onto hands above the device and that can be felt. By focusing complex patterns of ultrasound, the air disturbances can be seen as floating 3D shapes.
Visually, the researchers have demonstrated the ultrasound patterns by directing the device at a thin layer of oil so that the depressions in the surface can be seen as spots when lit by a lamp.
The system generates an invisible 3D shape that can be added to 3D displays to create something that can be seen and felt. The research team has also shown that users can match a picture of a 3D shape to the shape created by the system.
The research paper is published in the journal ACM Transactions on Graphics.