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We will soon have holograms you can touch thanks to 'aerohaptics'

Laforge from Star Trek The Next Generation on the holodeck with hand hovering over a desk.
(Image credit: Paramount)

The idea of a hologram you can touch has been my sci-fi dream ever since I saw that episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine where the crew played baseball on the holodeck. We're not there yet, but this is a promising step: Researchers at the University of Glasgow have developed a system for holograms using "aerohaptics," where jets of air create the sensation of touch on the user's fingers, hands, and wrists. 

"In time, this could be developed to allow you to meet a virtual avatar of a colleague on the other side of the world and really feel their handshake. It could even be the first steps towards building something like a holodeck," wrote Ravinder Dahiya, Professor of Electronics and Nanoengineering at the University of Glasgow in an article in The Conversation.  

Aerohaptics Pyramid Demo showing a hand touching a virtual object then getting hit with air to simulate touch.

(Image credit: University of Glasgow)

A small pyramid made up of a series of glass and mirrors was used to project a 2D image that looks like it's hovering in the air. The researchers combined that hologram projector with an air nozzle inside the pyramid that directs jets of air towards your hand, changing pressure depending on the action it is trying to mimic. My favorite part is that the demo uses the Unity game engine to create the virtual objects.  

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To show off what their aerohaptic system can do, the team created an interactive projection of a basketball. They claim you could touch, roll, and bounce the ball on a virtual surface. The feedback from the air jets would change on the fly depending on how hard you tried to dribble the ball. 

The team will soon be able to adjust the temperature of the air blown to mimic the feel of hot and cold surfaces, and they're looking into adding scents to the airflow. For, you know, total immersion.

Ultimately as the project gets bigger, the idea is it'll find uses outside of holographic gaming without the need for wearing any VR gear. 

"While we don’t expect to be delivering a full Star Trek holodeck experience in the near future, we’re already boldly going in new directions to add additional functions to the system," says professor Dahiya.

Jorge Jimenez

Jorge is a hardware writer from the enchanted lands of New Jersey. When he's not filling the office with the smell of Pop-Tarts, he's reviewing all sorts of gaming hardware from headsets to game pads. He's been covering games and tech for nearly ten years and has written for Dualshockers, WCCFtech, and Tom's Guide.