Virtual touch

Fresh from winning the prestigious Queen’s Award for Enterprise for Innovation, alumnus Dr Tom Carter (PhD 2017), CTO and co-founder of technology firm Ultrahaptics, tells us about touching things that aren’t there.

Imagine if you could reach out with your hand and touch a shape in mid-air – a virtual object that you could feel, but not see. That might sound like science fiction, but it’s real, and it’s happening here in Bristol. Ultrahaptics’ technology, which is based on my PhD, uses ultrasound to create three-dimensional shapes and textures in mid-air.

I’ve always been passionate about interface design, the user experience, and making things better. Human interaction with things should be efficient and easy for the user. I’m sure I’m not the only who gets annoyed by parking machines with impossible instructions, or the way when you need to change radio station in your car you have to flail around for the button while trying to keep your eyes on the road.

That’s what our technology is all about – making the way we interact with machines easier and more intuitive. As our tech develops I’m excited about its possible use in so many areas. For now, though, Ultrahaptics has featured in trials of an interactive movie poster and was also part of an art installation at Tate Britain. We’ve seen our tech rolled out into gaming machines and featured as part of a Halloween show at The Magic Castle in Hollywood.

Founding my own company has always been something I’ve wanted to do. When I was studying Computer Science at BristolI was lucky to be in a department that was so forward thinking. I was able to take modules in things such as entrepreneurship, learning about business plans and how to raise investment capital.

The people I met and worked with at Bristol stretched and encouraged me beyond traditional departmental boundaries. Ultrahaptics also benefited from being part of the University’s SET Squared incubator, currently housed in the Engine Shed hubwhere Brunel used to work.

It’s great to see entrepreneurship become more firmly embedded in the University curriculum, particularly with the new Temple Quarter campus that will have innovation at its heart. I believe you can start a business from any background and it’s so encouraging to see this new way of studying come to life.

Further information

You can listen and download the audio version here (mp3).

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