This year's event could be a coming out party for new types of technologies for haptics -- relating to touch -- that enable more immersive experiences.

In the heart of the gaming industry in Las Vegas, a Bristol, UK-based company will be showing off mid-air haptics technology it says can enable new multi-sensory 4D gaming experiences in slot machines and automotive retail, such as allowing users to "feel" the revs of an engine in augmented reality.

The company, Ultrahaptics, has developed a core technology that manipulates modulated ultrasound, from an array of ultrasonic transducers, to enable the creation of tactile sensations in free space so that products and devices communicate with the user through haptic feedback. It is a spin-out of a research project at the University of Bristol by Tom Carter, the co-founder, who was investigating the use of focused ultrasound to move passive tangible objects across the surface of interactive tabletops and mid-air haptic feedback for integration with gestural and virtual reality systems.


A growing trend in recent years is the evolution of technology for immersive experiences.  A few years ago, I was with a Germany-based start-up developing 3-D gesture recognition technology which was acquired in 2012. The promise of that technology was that you could wave your hand or your finger and control phones and other consumer electronics.

There were of course many others providing similar functionality. At Mobile World Congress in Barcelona a year later in 2013, I was with another company that enabled control of digital tech using just finger and hand movements, enabling "hovering" functions in mobiles and a multitude of applications like gaming, pad TV, automotive, medical industries plus many others.

Since then of course we’ve witnessed the emergence of companies like Oculus, as well as Hololens, and lots of talk of mixed reality. And indeed, research firm Gartner says this year AR and VR and mixed reality will change the way that people perceive and interact with the digital world.

Haptic technology is one area of this new immersive experience world. 

Ultrahaptics will use CES in Las Vegas in 2018 to reveal how its technology is already being used to enable new experiences in slot machines. London-based IGT (International Game Technology) is using its mid-air haptic feedback solution for implementation in IGT’s TRUE 4D games on the CrystalCurve TRUE 4D cabinet.

IGT has combined Ultrahaptics’ mid-air haptics technology with glasses-free TRUE 3D and gesture recognition technologies to create multi-sensory gaming experiences. Ultrahaptics’ technology enables players to experience tactile feedback when they interact with the games’ glasses-free 3D graphics. Players can reach out and touch graphics that appear in free space, without the need for haptic gloves. Gesture recognition technology enables players to interact with and manipulate the game's 3D objects, and the mid-air haptic technology allows players to experience tactile feedback from the game's graphics.

IGT is a global gaming company and achieved a gaming industry first when it introduced and deployed a slot product that includes this haptic technology, licensing Ultrahaptics’ software. In 2017 it unveiled several TRUE 4D game titles, and its first TRUE 4D game, SPHINX 4D, has now won several major gaming industry awards and went live on casino floors in November 2017.

NEXT PAGE on EE Times: AR and Haptics in Automotive Retail