• 04.29.10

Augmented Reality Floor Simulates Walking on Snow, Pebbles, and Grass

One less reason to keep spending so much time in nature.

AR floor

What happens when display screen technology gets so cheap you can lay it down like carpeting? Researchers at Canada’s McGill University have an idea: floor tiles which use precisely calibrated vibrations to simulate snow, grass, sand, and myriad other surfaces–and can even be programmed to become virtual buttons and sliders.


As Tech Review reports, the “haptic” floor tiles, which were created by Yon Visell, a PhD student at McGill’s Center for Intelligent Machines, are made of a sensors that are sandwiched between the top plate and the supporting platform. The sensors then detect the forces coming from a person’s foot, and then calibrate the response in the plate, which gives off subtle vibrations that are able to simulate the feel of different materials. An overhead LCD projector throws the pattern on the floor, along with speakers inside the platform that add to the illusion.

Luckily, the sandals in this picture are optional:

AR floor

While simulated organic surfaces obviously hold the most gee-whiz appeal, the plates can also be programmed to simulate the feel of buttons or analog slides. Visell suggests that floors could become gaming interfaces or giant, haptic touchscreens.

Imagine walking across a huge map in a building lobby, or a complete virtual-reality cave that (finally) has some physical feedback! Or a super-cool room inside Bill Gate’s house that simulates being at the beach, without ever requiring Bill to don SPF 45,000 sunscreen before traipsing across the sandy dunes.

For more intriguing haptic designs–that is, interfaces that engage the sense of touch–check out these great speakers, this “emotion shirt” for gamers, and this squishy touchscreen interface.

About the author

Cliff is director of product innovation at Fast Company, founding editor of Co.Design, and former design editor at both Fast Company and Wired.