This project from Disney Research looks really cool:
AIREAL is a new low cost, highly scalable haptic technology that delivers expressive tactile sensations in mid air. AIREAL enables users to feel virtual objects, experience dynamically varying textures and receive feedback on full body gestures, all without requiring the user to wear a physical device.
Body position–based user interfaces like the Kinect are fun to play with and they offer computers more input than other sources do, but their big drawback is the lack of tactile feedback. You still have to look at the screen in front of you to see whether your actions had the desired effect.
This problem reminds me of this great essay by Bret Victor:
Go ahead and pick up a book. Open it up to some page. Notice how you know where you are in the book by the distribution of weight in each hand, and the thickness of the page stacks between your fingers. Turn a page, and notice how you would know if you grabbed two pages together, by how they would slip apart when you rub them against each other.
Now, take out your favorite Magical And Revolutionary Technology Device. Use it for a bit. What did you feel? Did it feel glassy? Did it have no connection whatsoever with the task you were performing?
There was a rumor shortly before the iPhone 4S came out that the new device was going to include a haptic display. I think it’s a matter of when, not if, we’ll see that technology on the iPhone and other high-end smartphones. I’m excited to see the application of Disney’s mid-air version—maybe we’ll get to play with it in an interactive queue sometime soon.