In an early report by Gizmag in 2012, Disney Research and Senseg was reported to have developed a system where a user’s fingertips can sense a simulated bump on a flat screen. Now if that included 3D projection, the beginnings of hard light projection may well become a reality. Remember Rimmer from Red Dwarf? He’s a hologram with no ability to interact with his environment. Later in the series, his projection unit was modified so that his light body is more “tangible,” and thus be indestructible.
While neither companies technology is anywhere near that, the beginnings of simulating the physicality of objects on a screen may well be a start. The question of how deep can it go is uncertain, but if the sensation of depth can be more than an inch, that can be a game changer.
Flash forward to 2015, Apple Watch is embracing haptic technology as part of its interface and work is being done to allow deaf / blind people to feel their way, using morse code to allow them to read digital papers. Gizmag published an excellent follow-up article that described where this technology is currently at. Interestingly, there’s no mention in how it can be used in video games. An early form of it was used in controllers, but there has been no leap beyond that to the screen.
Virtual Reality simulators like the Oculus Rift is looking at incorporating some use of it, but to reach the level of the holodecks in Star Trek where force-fields make up reality in a myriad of forms (like cars and human simulacrums) is still many decades away from being reality. In the next twenty years, researchers might be able to create a virtual surface to move objects on and play games of 3D virtual chess.
Haptic technology is still at its infancy. In order for this technology to be usable for the masses, the ideas must be right, otherwise, it’s just not going to fly off the screen, much like how 3DTV was to be the next big thing.