Tactile augmented reality technology , Horizons

Tactile augmented reality technology


Tactile augmented reality is the process of integrating 3D models into our reality in order to enhance the perception of our environment. For the past 20 years, and through a variety of devices, tactile augmented reality has aimed to expand our knowledge, complement the power of human perception and magnify our reality. Because the applications are endless, tactile augmented reality is emerging as the next major advancement, offering an even greater opportunity for a completely immersive experience.

Early research in Japan

In the early 2000s, Takashi Kawai headed the fundamental sciences research laboratory at Waseda University in Tokyo. Beginning in 2003, his work aimed to create tactile sensation through visually augmented reality, without any physical contact. The experience involved outfitting participants with a helmet equipped with a display screen. A stereoscopic (3D) image was superimposed onto the immediate environment. The participant would put the palms of their hands in contact with the superimposed virtual image, which would appear to float a few centimetres in front of their eyes. The goal of this method was to activate tactile sensory perception in the participant's brain simply by viewing a video image. Though still in its early stages, augmented reality was already showing potential.

The advent of thermal technology

Laboratories around the world spent the first decade of the 21st century trying to develop tactile augmented reality technology tools. The success of this technology is closely linked to improving tools for perception, sensors and other graphic interfaces. Examples of devices that enable remote control of our perception of reality are increasing in number, ranging from intelligent glasses such as Google Glass to Oculus Rift and Optinvent, and including technologies such as smartboards, bracelets and watches.

The most recent development takes the form of heat-sensitive infrared detection glasses, able to track our thermal footprints. The heat transferred by our fingers onto the things we touch is “highlighted” by markers that make any surface “clickable” and tactile.

First firms on the forefront

“At this point, tactile augmented reality technology is still underdeveloped. Ultimately, it will be a revolution.”

— Peter Meier, CTO of Metaio

Metaio, a German company specializing in software development, patented the prototype known as Thermal Touch. According to CTO and futurist Peter Meier, “The Internet of Things and smart glasses are on everyone’s lips, but nobody talks about the best way  these tools should be used. We need simple and natural user interfaces for tomorrow’s technologies. That’s why we developed Thermal Touch, a process that could revolutionize the gaming world for children, advertising, or even how design is created.”

Imagine an architect viewing their 3D digital creations in environments planned for construction, or a technician accessing information simply by touching an object. Metaio recognizes that this technology still requires five to ten years of work to reach maturity, yet this fact didn't seem to dampen Apple’s enthusiasm: The California giant decided to acquire the German company on May 22.

Want to learn more? 

Read the article about Apple's announcement of its purchase of Metaio

Read about the Thermal Touch prototype