Haptic technology brings mid-air touch interactions to digital signage

Adding the sensation of interactive touch to advertising increases engagement, dwell time and recall as shown by these, haptic, Star Wars inspired screens.

Visitors to this year’s New Scientist Live event were literally able to ‘Feel the force’ as they interacted with some amazing new digital signage technology. The clever Ultrahaptics display has been designed to enable people to ‘touch’ and ‘feel’ invisible objects floating in front of them. In this case, as conference-goers approached the Star Wars-themed display, they could reach out and feel the invisible presence of ‘The Force’, changing the display as they interacted with it.

This impressive haptic technology works without gloves and doesn’t require people to be inside a special room rigged with sensors. As you can see in the video below, you just approach the display and reach out.

How does it work?

Ultrahaptics, the company behind this amazing development, uses directed ultrasound to give you the spooky feeling that you are touching something that isn’t there. The company’s ultrasonic generators use algorithms that control ultrasound waves, creating pressure on your skin that mimics the sensation of touch.

As far as this Star Wars display is concerned, the ‘Force’ was an acoustic field with areas of high pressure that simulated ‘magic sparkles’ – a sensation that feels like painless sparks bouncing off your skin.

A prototype pad of ultrasonic speakers (below the poster display) produces the ‘touch and feel’ effect.

How controllable is it?

This ultrasonic field is highly tuneable. The ‘touch pixels’ can be as small as 8.6mm – the size of a fingertip – and can be manipulated to create different sensations and textures. For example, it can be configured to feel like something is touching, or even stroking, your hand; or give you the sensation that you can feel an object floating in mid-air.

An Ultrahaptics spokesperson told us: “The technology engages the mechanoreceptors on the surface of your skin. It triggers the ‘rapidly adaptive mechanoreceptors’. These engage the brain faster compared to more traditional ‘resistive’ touch and feel technology, which requires you to hold something or put your hand in something. This can create a strong emotional effect.”

What effect does it have on the consumer?

This isn’t just a novelty either. This ‘wow-factor’ technology can have a direct impact on your bottom line. Marketing is all about engagement and the more you can immerse someone in an experience the better.

Touch is one of the most primitive senses and it’s one we tend to trust. As Thomas Fuller once said, “Seeing is believing, but feeling is the truth.” This is because we are used to having our eyes and ears fooled – television does it to us all the time. But we rarely doubt our sense of touch in the same way.

With visual, audio and haptic sensations combined into one display – stimulating three of your senses at once – the effect is deeply immersive. The more senses you can stimulate with your advertising the more you create engagement, favourability and recall in your customer. The surprising effect that the Ultrahaptics display has on people is also very sharable on social media and with friends. People want to show off this new experience, and in doing so they are helping you widen your promotion.

While this Star Wars display was just a demo, it proves that the technology is here and ready to be deployed. With this much buzz being created, expect to see adventurous brands ‘keeping in touch’ with their customers via ultrasonic interactive display advertising in the not too distant future.

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