It seems like just about every tech company that can is getting in on the VR game, and this means we see some pretty interesting innovations from time to time.
Many companies have been trying to go beyond the VR headsets and make their virtual reality worlds far more immersive. Instead of just getting the eyes and ears involved, they want to involve the entire body. This is generally called haptic feedback, and it refers to the sense of touch. It is speculated that a true haptic feedback experience would be far more immersive than an aural VR experience. Many people get by in the real world without the use of their ears, after all, but not many can interact with the world without a sense of touch.
What is Haptic VR?
One of the first big advances in the field of haptic VR was in 2014, at the University of Bristol. This was an ultrasound sensory device that created three-dimensional objects that could be felt. It was something of a media sensation when it appeared, but there were some obstacles in the way of it ever becoming a mainstream hit. The biggest problem this technology faced was that it wasn’t very reliable and that it functioned better in concept than in practice. Those who tried it out said that the artificial sense of touch was not very convincing.
There are some serious tech hurdles to get over with ultrasound 3-D technology. Positioning enough ultrasonic speakers to make a virtual environment that works in 360 degrees would be problematic, to say the least. The tech demos that have been shown so far feature a handful of speakers in front of the user and allow that person to touch items in front of them. That’s all well fine, but what happens when you want the user to touch something that is anywhere else- beside, behind or even above them? There has never been a real answer to this problem, and it’s hard to imagine the technology ever advancing to such a degree as to make it commercially feasible.
The Haptic Bodysuit
One piece of tech in this niche that we found interesting is the bodysuit. There is one already in last development stages known as the Teslasuit, and it’s not the only one. These can operate on some varied principles, but they all provide full body feedback through a fully body suit.
We’ll look at the Teslasuit to give you an example of how this might work. This product looks like a ski suit, and it is surprisingly elegant. This particular suit uses neuromuscular stimulation, and the force is specially designed to conduct electricity. It sends mild stimulation to the parts of the body that it is trying to create an artificial sense of touch with.
This suit is still in the developmental stages, and it is had some problems gaining enough funding so far. It needs widespread support to become marketable, and right now, there aren’t enough applications that would make use of it to make it commercially viable.
Another body suit that provides haptic feedback is the HaptX Exoskeleton. This was created by the tech company AxonVR, and it is designed to make virtual reality just as real to its users as the actual world. That’s a big dream from a small tech start, but they have already enjoyed $5 million in funding for their suit. This suit differs from the Teslasuit in that it uses pneumatic sensors to create sensations of touch. This makes it heavier than the competition, but it also means that it can create a larger range of sensations. The feelings of touch are divided into two basic types- force feedback and cutaneous touch.
Cutaneous touch is able to create sensations that are localized, like cold and warm sensations. Force feedback provides more forceful sensations, such as taking steps or pushing against something that offers resistance, like heavy items. To create that kind of sensation, it wouldn’t be enough to use the same electrical feedback provided by the Teslasuit. Instead, the HaptX suit uses the power of pneumatic actuators. These are the same kind of powerful devices that allow paralysed patients to walk again in medical applications.
The HaptX isn’t just another version of the same kind of suit that everyone else is making. It uses technology that is already in use in real-world applications and applies it to virtual reality. The exoskeleton allows for virtual reality traversal that’s a form of stationary mobility, much like a hamster moving around in a ball. This mean that the locomotion problem, where the user needs to interact in a small space in the real word but a large space in virtual worlds, is practically solved. It also provides powerful force feedback that makes the sensations provided by virtual reality much more real to the user. That’s a powerful combination that, to our minds, means it is hands down the most promising virtual reality simulation suit yet.
The problem of immersion for virtual reality may be solved in few years, and these are what we think are the best chances to see that happen. In a few years, we could be fully immersed in artificial world thanks to he steps already being taken by these tech companies.