Touch feedback, or haptics technology, has been changing rapidly over the last few years with new uses in entertainment, rehabilitation, and even surgical training. Now, using ultrasound, scientists have developed virtual 3D shapes that can be seen and felt in mid-air. The researchers from the UK University of Bristol’s Department of Computer Science, say that this could change the way 3D shapes are used, such as allowing a surgeon to explore a CT scan by enabling them to feel a disease, such as a tumor, using haptic feedback.

The method uses ultrasound, which is focused onto hands above the device and that can be felt. By focusing complex patterns of ultrasound, the air disturbances can be seen as floating 3D shapes. Visually, the researchers have demonstrated the ultrasound patterns by directing the device at a thin layer of oil so that the depressions in the surface can be seen as spots when lit by a lamp.