Scientists say they have made "significant steps" in developing computers that allow users to feel the virtual world.
Scientists say the technology could help to train surgeons
A team at the University of Reading is working on a device that allows users to touch, feel and grip 3D graphics.
They say the device could benefit medical training by allowing surgeons to practice in a virtual environment.
It works by turning digital information on size and texture into a sensation transmitted to the user.
The movement of a person's hand as he or she touches the object can be constrained to represent a hard surface, for example.
Dr William Harwin and his colleagues in the university's cybernetics department are among scientists across the world looking to further develop the haptics technology.
The idea behind haptics - from the Greek verb meaning ''to touch" - is to extend the experience of computers to include not just vision and sound but also a sense of feeling.
It is already used to some degree in gaming consoles and vibrating joysticks.
Dr Harwin's team are perfecting a hand-held device to allow users to touch virtual objects that could not exist in the real world.
Dr Harwin said the device "gives a high degree of realism and because we can model free-floating three-dimensional objects the user can explore all sides".
"The possibilities of this technology are endless. Anything that can be modelled in a virtual environment could be touched and moved," he said.