Analysis

Haptic controllers are just around the corner

4th January 2016
Enaie Azambuja

Tom Carter creates sounds you can touch. As the co-founder of Bristol-based Ultrahaptics, Carter has developed a technology that uses arrays of speakers, similar to a car's parking sensors, to produce ultrasounds that create tactile sensations. These sonic objects can be "touched" from up to two metres away.

Carter came up with the idea in 2011 while studying computer science at the University of Bristol.

"The idea of touching something that's not there had never been done in a way that was small and fast enough to give a good experience," he says.

The company's goal is not to create products, but rather to provide its technology to other industries. Carter underlines, for instance, how Ultrahaptics could add tactile kicks to virtual-reality gaming. He also says haptics might make possible appliances operated with ultrasound-sculpted buttons or switches.

"Imagine a toaster you can control by making a gesture near it, and getting a lever-like sensation on your fingertips," he says. "According to what the tracker sees, we can update what the ultrasound makes you feel."

Jaguar is one company quick to spot its potential. In September 2015, it struck a partnership with Ultrahaptics to design a touchless dashboard for car drivers to control. Companies in other sectors - from consumer electronics to computing and gaming - have also been in touch.

"We are trying to get a product to market in a short time," Carter explains. "Hopefully, within two years, there'll be something that you can buy and control without touching."

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