Touch Your Favorite Characters In Virtual Reality
Imagine if your favorite video game character would, let’s say, tap you on the shoulder or grab your hand. Well, this VR technology isn’t very far-fetched. Virtual reality is the next big thing in video gaming; it allows the user to virtually place themselves in the game. Put on a headset and whoosh the world opens up anew. The games allow the user to see and hear everything that goes on around them in a 360 live-action view. Yet, what about the other senses? People realize they’re playing a game because they feel the desk in front of them or smell that pizza they left out. What if those senses were also filled by game-play?
Well visually, VR is all about angles and tricking our brain. Each of our eyes sees different areas/angles of our surroundings and they bring them together into one image. In VR, programmers take the same approach by separating what each eye sees within the headset. The VR headsets give the user just enough variation in vision to make them feel as if they’re in a three-dimensional world, this is called stereoscopic display. Another key component is tracking the user’s location and where their eyes are moving. Programmers achieve this by creating a large field of view in the game, meaning that the user can look in any direction: up, down, backward, etc. Every location within the game has a set array of events and interactive possibilities. This gives the users a storyline to follow, allowing game characters to lead or follow you around the terrain.
Many companies such as VRgluv and HaptX have already started working on the touch sensation by developing haptic gloves. These are gloves that provide haptic feedback by microfluidic technology. This technology manipulates the fluid in the gloves via capillary action (surface tension). This fluid movement is interconnected with game-play and the device uses that movement to provide you with a feeling of touch. Essentially, it shifts the fluids in the gloves around as you play the game, providing some form of tension along your hands. Other companies use a different approach to haptic feedback in which small motors provide intense vibrations along the gloves in different areas as users play the game. NeuroDigital Technologies even developed a game, ‘Bubbles’ where haptic feedback gloves provided users with the ability to feel little bubbles. The bubbles fill the room and as users grab them they experience a popping sensation on their hands.
That’s cool for when you want to touch or pick up an item in a game, but what about if something brushes against you or falls on your arm? Using haptic gloves, the sensation of touch is restricted to just the hands. At the University Graduate School of Media and Design in Japan, students, Yukari Konishi, Nobuhisa Hanamitsu, Benjamin Outram, and Kouta Minamizawa created the Keio Rez Infinite Synesthesia Suit. This is a Velcro suit embedded with many tiny motors covering the user’s torso, arms, and legs that would vibrate differentially as you touched items in VR. This would enable users to feel rocks when they ran into them as a vibration in their knee, perhaps, or friendly tap from a character as vibration in their shoulder.
The graduate student project really marked the way for touch in VR. Now companies are trying to develop more sleek suits that you can wear under your clothing. Their aim has shifted to products that are less bulky and lighter than Velcro. On April 5, at the Materials Research Society spring meeting, a new haptic feedback device was described that consists of a grid of tiny inflatable bubbles between two layers of silicone film. This device is hooked to plastic tubes that feed into an external pump. The bubbles and silicone would be embedded into clothing and inflated via the pump in different increments at varying speeds across the user’s body. The aim is to implement this as a full body suit so that when the bubbles were inflated around the user’s arm, it would feel as if they were being grabbed by using pressure alone. Researchers have aimed to one day develop this device without the need of an external pump and possibly combining it with our other touch senses such as temperature and stretch.
The possibilities for VR are constantly increasing as this technology rapidly develops. The applications of VR extend further than video game enthusiasts. They can be useful in treating anxieties, as the first applications were used in treatment of PTSD, followed by phobias and depression. These devices are already being implemented in a more interactive sense such as for watching movies in theaters, sporting events, and even museum exhibitions. In the future, we may be able to shop using VR, view housing properties, and other novelties. This technology is new and exciting for developers and consumers alike. It’s a race to improve the immersion ability of VR and create new innovative applications for it. Who knows, maybe one day we’ll be able to master those last sense, our sense of smell, to fully submerge us.