Imagine playing a first-person shooter in which you feel the rush of air from bullets screaming over your shoulder, or a massive open-world role-playing game in which you feel the brush of a leaf on your forearm.
That's the promise behind AIREAL, the new haptic feedback technology announced by Disney on Friday. The technology, developed by Disney's research division, shoots off ring-shaped spurts of air at a player to augment his or her experience.
Here's the science-y bit, from Disney:
AIREAL is designed to use a vortex, a ring of air that can travel large distances while keeping its shape and speed. When the vortex hits a user's skin, the low pressure system inside a vortex collapses and imparts a force the user can feel...Five actuators are mounted around the enclosure which displaces air from the enclosed volume, through the flexible nozzle and into the physical environment. The actuated flexible nozzle allows a vortex to be precisely delivered to any location in 3D space.
Basically, this lil nubbin receives displaced air from five small speakers.
And then shoots it all over the place. All over you and your family and your friends.
Disney says that the technology is "highly scalable," which means, of course, that it has implications in other areas than gaming. Of particular interest are touch surfaces, the manufacturers of which have still not devised a good haptic feedback mechanism.
So: flying rings of air, coming soon on a gaming system, and perhaps a tablet, near you.