Feel This: Disney Wants to Bring Virtual Objects Into the Real World. Sort Of.

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Director of the Entrepreneur Partner Studio
3 min read

Think Mickey Mouse would get a kick out of playing Fruit Ninja on a computer screen, slicing lemons and watermelons with a simple wave of his hand? Whether or not Mickey is a gamer, Disney Research in Pittsburgh is developing a new technology called Aireal that would enable users of hands free, motion-controlled devices such as the Microsoft Kinect or Leap Motion to actually feel the virtual objects they're manipulating.

Yes, Disney does more than just cartoons. If you're not familiar at all with Disney Research, it was launched in 2008 as an informal network of research labs that collaborate with academic institutions such as Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. It has labs in places like Los Angeles, Boston and Zurich, and is developing a ton of far-out technologies.

The idea behind Aireal is that if you touch or hit an object virtually, you should be able to have some time of real-world reaction to further engage you in the game or program you're using. Disney's Aireal system is made of modules that track a set target -- such as a person's hand -- and project puffs of air that can hit the target at a specific time. 3-D cameras watch your every move and a nozzle can shoot bursts of air in your direction, within about five feet or so.

So when combined with a separate gesture-controlled system, like the Leap Motion system which launched this month, Disney says these bursts of air can be timed -- get this -- so they reach a user's hands at the same moment as an on-screen object would if it were real, according to a report in Gizmag. "By using vortices of air rather than simple air jets, the device can provide a tactile sensation over longer distances and with much greater accuracy," the report says.

While making the hands-free experience more immersive and interactive sounds smart, it feels like this particular technology is still a ways off. Disney researchers say they don't have immediate plans to implement Aireal into any existing products but they hope to someday be able to manipulate the vortices of air to create 3-D objects in mid-air. That could be very cool. If you could see them, that is.

You can click through the links here to take a peek at all the crazy projects that Disney Research has in motion. 

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