This is what real-life levitation looks like

By Lauren Davis
Tuesday, 30 October, 2018

This is what real-life levitation looks like

Whether you’ve seen it in fantasy films or live at a magic show, many of us are familiar with the art of levitation — the idea that objects or even people can be made to float in the air. It’s a centuries-old concept — one that European scientists are now turning into reality.

Researchers from the University of Glasgow, working as part of the EU project Levitate, have managed to suspend little polystyrene particles in mid-air, supported only by ultrasonic acoustic waves. This ‘real-life levitation’ could lead to new kinds of displays to command machines and hence revolutionise human-machine interactions.

Data, for example, will not appear anymore on a flat screen, but become physical levitating objects, rising before us in mid-air; and, with simple, intuitive gestures, people could work on them. As explained by Professor Stephen Brewster from the University of Glasgow, “The objective is to create a whole new way of interacting with technology, by creating 3D objects which can rise up in front of you in space.

“If I was making a model of a car, instead of having to carve something out of clay, I could have that model created in front of me, with multiple little pixels in space, marking out the surface of the car. For example, I could do a gesture to change the way the headlights work.”

Supported by the European Future and Emerging Technologies (FET) program, the aim of the Levitate project is to restore meaningful, physical feedback to human-computer interaction, turning data into 3D objects that the user can touch and feel. With a computer controlling the existence, form and appearance of levitating objects composed of particles, users will be able to reach into the levitating matter, feel it, manipulate it and hear how they deform it — with all feedback originating from the levitating object’s position in mid-air.

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