Japan scientists create 3-D images you can touch

TOKYO Wed Sep 16, 2009 5:25am EDT

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TOKYO (Reuters Life!) - Imagine a light switch or a book that appears only when you need it -- Japanese scientists are one step closer to making the stuff of sci-fi films into reality after creating a hologram that can also be felt.

"Up until now, holography has been for the eyes only, and if you'd try to touch it, your hand would go right through," Hiroyuki Shinoda, professor at Tokyo university and one of the developers of the technology, told Reuters.

"But now we have a technology that also adds the sensation of touch to holograms."

Holograms -- three-dimensional images -- are commonly found on credit cards, DVDs and CDs to prevent forgery, and larger scale holograms have been used in entertainment.

By using ultrasonic waves, the scientists have developed software that creates pressure when a user's hand "touches" a hologram that is projected.

In order to track a user's hand, the researchers use control sticks from Nintendo's popular Wii gaming system that are mounted above the hologram display area.

The technology has so far been tested with relatively simple objects, although the researchers have more practical plans, including virtual switches at hospitals, for example, and other places where contamination by touch is an issue.

Shinoda also said the technology could be used to replace other physical objects, making it economical and environmentally friendly.

(Editing by Miral Fahmy)

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