Virtual reality only immerses two of your senses: sight and hearing. Not that we're dying for smell and taste in video games (bleh! Imagine first person shooters), but tactile feedback makes things feel a lot more real. Disney Research's Aireal, which we got a brief peek at in May, does this by blowing puffs of air in your face, and it's not nearly as crazy as it sounds.
Inside the camera-sized device, five subwoofer-like actuators blast a very low frequency through a movement-following nozzle, creating a low-pressure ring of air traveling toward you. When the ring hits your skin, it collapses, and you feel a small, sharp puff. The frequency of the pulses can be varied to create different textures and sensations, and with a firing range of about six feet and 75 degrees of articulation, it's perfectly dialed in for Kinect-style close-range interaction.
Intricate feedback is probably the nest step for controllers and tactile feedback in games. The new Xbox One controller, for instance, has rumbling trigger buttons, and the sensation in your fingers is a great addition. But for games where you aren't using a controller at all? This looks amazing.
The Aireal device isn't quite perfected yet — each puff brings with it a low pitched bumping noise, and the delay rate currently precludes any lightning-fast applications. But a small, inexpensive (thanks to 3D printing) device that lets you feel video games? It already sounds like something you'd see in Epcot. [Disney Research via Fast Company]