Bubbles are the user interface of the future

We’ve seen all kinds of interfaces come and go over the years, from keyboards and mice to light pens and touchscreens. Now, a group of researchers from the University of Tokyo have built a device that enables haptic interaction with a ball.

It takes a whole rig to achieve this feat. A loosely spherical frame is used, which mounts eleven Airborne Ultrasonic Phased Arrays, or AUPAs. Each phased array is made up of many ultrasonic transducers, with the machine having 2739 individual transducers in total. The phased arrays are controlled to create a sound field that moves the ball and holds it in various desired positions. Closed-loop control is achieved through the use of stereo cameras, which track the position of the ball at high speed.

The system allows the ball to be moved quickly in three dimensions. Additionally, a user can touch and interact with the ball directly while it is floating in the air. They can even slide and redirect the ball, which can be tracked by the stereo camera system.

The research team does not highlight any particular application for this technology at this stage. We’re not expecting the touch ball on next year’s Surface Pro or the next MacBook, that’s for sure. However, it’s a lot of fun to watch and there are probably some creative applications we can’t think of off the top of our heads. Share yours in the comments.

The Hackaday Prize 2022 places special emphasis on odd entries and peculiar devices, so be sure to check out this whole scene. Video after the break.