Ultrahaptics eyes virtual reality

The mid-air touch control specialists plan to create virtual reality systems that let you 'see, hear and touch things that don’t exist'
3rd August 2016

Ultrahaptics has been growing at an incredible rate – it now employs 40 people in Bristol developing technology that uses an array of ultrasonic sensors. These generate sound waves to create the sensation of feeling objects in free space. This is combined with a sensor technology such as a camera or projected capacitive sensor so that the sensations can follow a user’s finger.

“[Our tech] allows us to revolutionise the way we interact with machines”

 

“It allows us to create buttons and sliders in mid air to control things and to create 3D shapes in VR which get you to a bizarre place to see, hear and touch things that don’t exist,” said Steve Cliffe, CEO of Ultrahaptics. “That allows us to revolutionise the way we interact with machines.”

You can see the tech in action in the video below:

The company has raised over £10m from UK funders and currently has £8m in the bank. It is now looking at how to use the technology for professional VR systems. This would see engineers and designers using a VR headset over a table that hosts the ultrasonic array. They would be able to feel the objects they see in the headset while over the table, but objects would appear to fall off if they went beyond the table top.

“It’s very early days for us in VR and we are looking at how we take this forwards,” said Cliffe. This would use the current funding to accelerate the development, he says.

Invisible mid-air touch controls

Ultrahaptics_T003_Mid_air_touch_technology_in_actionThe company expects to see its first royalties from selling the technology this year. The first applications are providing speaker controls and cooker hobs in mid-air.

It is also working with car makers to provide dials and knobs with particular sensations and sounds in mid-air so that drivers do not take their eyes off the road. Royalties from automotive designs are expected in 2019.

It is also making the technology more standardised through a £1.2 m grant from the European Horizon 2020 programme. “This is about scaling the business,” says Cliffe. “For our customers we have to customise the software for the sensation of touching the button, and they pay us for this. This funding grant was to take the IP and embed it into a microprocessor with an API for them to develop by themselves so for every design win it goes from 50-60 man weeks to one or two weeks,” he said.

You can keep up-to-date with company developments at ultrahaptics.com, or on Twitter @ultrahaptics.