New Device Will Allow You to Feel the Impact of Virtual Reality Punches

Thursday, 12 November 2015 - 11:41AM
Gadgets
Thursday, 12 November 2015 - 11:41AM
New Device Will Allow You to Feel the Impact of Virtual Reality Punches
Virtual reality may be taking a significant step towards fully immersive, realistic simulated experiences, as a new device from the Hasso Plattner Institute in Germany allows the user to actually feel the impact from a virtual reality punch. 



The device combines basic haptic feedback, or a tactile sensation,  delivered by an armband with electrical muscle stimulation from a pair of electrodes in order to make the user "feel" the punch, without any of the pain. The tactile sensation feels like a vibration or tapping on the skin, while the muscle stimulation sends the arm flying in a realistic direction, making the user feel as though they are actually experiencing a physical impact.

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"It's kind of an illusion," study leader Patrick Baudisch told MIT Technology Review. "We want the user wearing a VR headset to believe that he was really hit by something."
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The device, called Impacto, is distinctive from other virtual reality technologies in that it uses the player's own biology in order to create the virtual reality experiences, which makes the technology much more lightweight, convenient, and wieldy.

Opening quote
"Traditional ways of actuating muscles [in haptic interfaces] use motors and batteries, but that doesn't scale very well," Baudisch explains. "If you want to convey a virtual experience that affects the whole body, perhaps with a large force, you'll quickly find yourself in a 'Sigourney Weaver in Aliens' situation where the person is buried in a giant exoskeleton. The idea behind Impacto is you already have a skeleton-let's just use that one."
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Impacto can be used to simulate any experience that involves an impact, or a classic Newtonian "equal and opposite reaction," such as kicking a soccer ball or hitting a virtual baseball with a bat. Right now, the technology is only effective at simulating impacts that last 200 milliseconds or less, but the researchers believe that they can extrapolate the technology to create continuous impulses that imitate longer experiences, like driving a car along a guardrail in a car racing game.

Other researchers in the field claim that there are still basics in VR technology that need to be mastered before adding simulated force with haptic interfaces, which may not be relevant to mainstream devices until 2020 or later. But 2020 isn't very far away, and this technology could be crucial to making VR a truly immersive experience.

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"The approach of combining different sensory stimuli [within virtual reality] to produce specific effects is exciting," said Judy Vance, a professor of mechanical engineering who studies haptic interfaces at Iowa State University's Virtual Reality Applications Center. "Fred Brooks once wrote that virtual reality will have arrived when you can walk down the aisle of a virtual airplane and stub your toe on the seat. This technology would do that."
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