While we are waiting for Apple to design and start selling a holodeck (and the corresponding app for the iPhone), we can at least get a bit closer to that reality right now.
We already have gesture-based games like Kinect, although that has us waving our hands around like crazed apes in a Monty Python sketch. And we have virtual reality games and training devices. The key that can add a bit more realism to such games is haptic feedback. “Haptic” refers to the sense of touch, so haptic feedback is a touch-based sensory feedback.
The wizards at Disney Research have come up with a way to provide this feedback without actually touching you — at least not with anything solid (or liquid). What they have designed and built is a small air cannon that they call Aireal which they describe thusly:
Aireal is a new low-cost, highly scalable haptic technology that delivers expressive tactile sensations in midair. Aireal enables users to feel virtual objects, experience dynamically varying textures, and receive feedback on full-body gestures, all without requiring the user to wear a physical device.
Aireal is part of our long-term vision for creating large-scale computer augmented environments, which can deliver compelling interactive experiences seamlessly, everywhere and at any time. Free air tactile feedback technology is a key element of these future interactive spaces with a wide range of applications including gaming and storytelling, mobile interfaces, and gesture control among many others.
The Aireal device shoots a ring of air (a vortex) that can travel significant distances without collapsing. The cannon has a flexible nozzle assembly. That nozzle is mounted on a gimbal so it can pan (left to right) and tilt (up and down).
There are actuators that act as the thumpers to quickly pressurize the air in the chamber behind the nozzle and force it out. That's the method by which the vortex is generated. The whole thing along with a camera looks like this:
The camera locates the target at which the vortex is shot. The vortex's impact at full throttle is enough to add emphasis to sports games. It can be dialed back to seem like birds swooping around you or even a butterfly landing on your arm.
Here's a short YouTube video that Disney Research prepared to show the devices in action. While you can't feel what's happening, you'll get the idea.
More details of the apparatus (showing its construction) and applications are available here. After seeing the information presented in the video and on that site, share your ideas on how you would or could use the device.