Disney Research's Aireal Adds a Breeze to Motion Controls

By Wesley Fenlon

Bridging the physical and the virtual, one small puff of air at a time.

Disney Research's Aireal--pronounced just like the mermaid--aims to add a degree of tactile feedback to gesture-based interfaces like the Kinect. As the name implies, Aireal uses air to accomplish that goal, and it's a surprisingly cool bit of technology.

As Wired writes, Airreal is a small computer-controlled air cannon that fires vortices of air out of a flexible nozzle. It's mostly constructed from 3D printed parts. A camera attached to the device tracks the user and then uses air to provide physical feedback.

The simplest example Disney's demonstrated combines Aireal and a soccer goalie minigame that should look familiar to Kinect Sports owners. Soccer balls come flying at the screen, and the player has to block them with mid-air hand slaps. Aireal, mounted on the TV, will follow those hand movements and shoot vortices of air at them. Suddenly, you can feel the soccer balls as they impact--or, at least, some air pressure that feels like something.

Photo credit: Disney Research

Aireal can fire air with varying amounts of pressure and at different speeds, to provide just a whisper of impact or a heavier, more sustained physical sensation. Multiple air cannons can also be networked to provide more of a surround sound-style experience. It all sounds a little silly until you ponder the combination of Aireal, Oculus Rift and motion-based inputs. It's feasible that puffs of air could really heighten immersion under the right circumstances.

If nothing else, it's exciting to see the kinds of technologies that would once be used in theme park rides become feasible living room products. Check out Disney's video introduction to Aireal below.