Researchers at NTT Comware have just made virtual reality a little more real. On June 20, the company unveiled a 3D display system that reproduces the physical feel of three-dimensional video by means of an actuator glove worn on the hand, allowing viewers to literally reach out and touch the person or object on the screen.
The so-called "Tangible-3D" prototype system is built around an improved version of NTT's 3D display -- originally developed in 2005 -- which displays 3D images without requiring special glasses. The system relies on a pair of cameras that capture and process data about the position, shape and size of objects as they are filmed. As the two video images are combined into a 3D image that is displayed on the screen at the receiving end, the data is relayed to the glove, whose array of actuators translate it into a tactile impression the user can feel. The glove operates in real-time along with the 3D video, so the user can "feel" the on-screen image as it moves.
For now, the Tangible-3D system only works in one direction, but NTT Comware is developing a two-way system that allows tactile impressions to be transmitted back and forth between multiple users. The company is also working to improve the 3D screen, which only appears three-dimensional from a particular viewing angle.
While the possibilities for this technology are endless, NTT Comware suggests it could be put to use in museum exhibits that would allow visitors to handle items on display that are ordinarily off-limits. The company also says this technology could be put to use in classrooms, where it would allow students to touch objects located very far away.
NTT Comware will exhibit the Tangible-3D system at the Industrial Virtual Reality Expo being held at Tokyo Big Sight from June 27 to 29.