While virtual reality can definitely feel extremely real and immersive, it can still fall short of the mark due to certain limitations.
One of these limitations includes the fact that you can’t feel a sense of touch within VR.
This post delves into the sense of touch within virtual reality and what research is being conducted for its development.
In this post, we will shed light upon:
- What haptic and tactile feedback are
- The different new VR devices being developed to simulate a sense of touch
- Frequently asked questions (FAQs)
So without further ado, let’s get into it.
Haptic and Tactile Feedback
Haptic feedback refers to the use of touch and different sensations related to it to communicate something to a user. An everyday example of haptic feedback is the vibration of your phone every time it gets a message or a call.
Tactile feedback refers to the recreation of certain familiar patterns of pressure on the surface of your skin.
When it comes to developing a sense of touch within VR, it’s not just about having that sense of touch for the user. The sense of touch also has to be accurate to how it feels in the world.
This has proven to be quite a challenge.
It’s not easy to create natural experiences within an artificial world. This is why many of the researches that have occurred in the past have had varying results.
Let’s discuss some of them…
Recent Research Related to Touch in VR
In this section, we’ll highlight some of the prominent research that has been conducted to bring a sense of touch into the world of VR.
Naturally, things are not really “consumer-friendly” yet and there’s still a lot of research and development to be done.
However, things are looking promising as there are many examples to choose from that have made great strides when it comes to making users feel touched within virtual reality.
The Use of Ultrasound Waves to Simulate Touch
Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University have made use of the fact that the lips, gums and tongue are extremely sensitive. They’ve developed a system that uses airborne ultrasound waves to create many different sensations on the lips, gums, teeth and tongue of the user.
The great part about it is that it’s small enough to easily be attached to the bottom side of a VR headset. Hence, it can be an easy additional component that’ll add a new level of immersion to the user’s VR experience.
“Every time you lean down and think you should be feeling the water, all of a sudden you feel a stream of water across your lips,” Vivian Shen said; a Ph.D. student at the university.
When it comes to the device, the effects that a certain user can expect to feel with this device include
- Point impulses
- Persistent vibrations
It’s important to say that this is all done in conjunction with the proper corresponding images within VR that the user is seeing.
For example, if the user leans over a water fountain within VR to get a sip of water, they’ll feel the water running across their lips.
However, this experience has been known to be slightly jarring for users because according to them, “the water hits your lips but it does not feel wet.”
Drinking water from a water fountain isn’t the only situation that was tested. There were many other examples that had varying results in regards to “how real” they felt.
When it comes to sensations that are specific to the mouth such as brushing teeth, feeling water on your lips and a bug walking across it, the feedback was accurate.
However, when it came to other sensations such as walking through cobwebs, volunteers said that the feeling was not as accurate. This is probably because when you walk through cobwebs, you’d expect to feel it all across your body but instead, you only feel it on your mouth.
Haptic Feedback with Strings
Another device that has also been developed at Carnegie Mellon University is a shoulder-mounted device that can accurately simulate a sense of touch.
It’s a device that uses multiple strings that are attached underneath the hands and fingers of the users. Then, when the user touches something within a virtual space, these strings tighten up to provide haptic feedback.
Examples of the uses that have been accurately developed with this device is the feeling of touching a wall.
You can also experience the curves and contours of a virtual sculpture with the help of this device. The strings can also tighten up to provide a sense of resistance when you touch a piece of furniture within the virtual space.
You can even high-five a virtual character and get a sense of touch from that as well.
The main issue with this device, however, is the fact that it’s quite heavy and consumes a lot of power. It’s definitely not consumer-ready yet as most people would not want a heavy device on their shoulder as they’re trying to experience virtual reality.
Still though, it’s exciting to see all these milestones being reached within the realm of virtual reality. As research continues, we hope that we’ll see a sense of touch slowly be incorporated into traditional VR devices that are sold to consumers.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What is “Phantom Touch” in VR?
Phantom touch refers to the sensation that many users feel when they think they’re sensing somebody or something touching them. This happens even though there’s no actual real-life contact happening.
What is a Haptic Suit?
A haptic suit is a fully wearable suit that users can wear in order to feel sensations all across their body.
It can be utilized to provide users with a much more immersive experience since they’ll feel everything that their character is supposed to feel in the virtual space.
Does a Haptic Suit Hurt?
While it can cause discomfort or unpleasant feelings that your character may feel within the virtual space, haptic suits are not designed to hurt or cause injury.
Many of them even come with adjustable settings that you can tinker with to determine what level of discomfort you want to feel during the VR experience.
How Does Tactile VR Work?
Tactile virtual reality devices use a variety of sensors and pressure devices such as electric actuators, hydraulics, and pneumatics.
These devices provide resistance or pressure every time you feel objects within a virtual space. This resistance or pressure is used to simulate a sense of touch that feels like you’re really interacting with the virtual object.
What is the Teslasuit?
The Teslasuit is a fully wearable body suit that can be used to simulate a variety of sensations all across your body.
It works by sending electricity through the user’s body to simulate a variety of sensations such as light rain falling on it, a punch in the gut and more.
Wrapping Things Up…
VR is continuing to evolve and it’s really exciting to see what the future has in store for us.
All of the research related to touch within VR forecasts that it’ll soon be incorporated into consumer-ready devices in a few years. It’ll be exciting to see how developers use this technology to bring a new level of immersion to the virtual reality experience.