A simple way to integrate physical feedback into a virtual experience is to use a fan to blow air at the user. This idea has been done before, and the fans are usually the easy part. [Paige Pruitt] and [Sean Spielberg] put a twist on things in their (now-canceled) Kickstarter campaign called ZephVR, which featured two small fans mounted onto a VR headset. The bulk of their work was in the software, which watches the audio signal for recognizable “wind” sounds, and uses those to turn on one or both fans in response.
The benefit of using software to trigger fans based on audio cues is that the whole system works independently of everything else, with no need for developers and software to build in support for your project, or to use other middleware. Unfortunately the downside is that the results are only as good as the ability of software to pick the right sounds and act on them. Embedded below is a short video showing a test in action.
On the left is a debug console, on which red indicates low or no wind and green is a lot of wind. Fans are mounted to the top of the monitor so the responses are visible. It’s not much of a demo, but it’s enough to see the idea in action with fans responding individually to objects passing nearby on the left or right.
[Sean] and [Paige] canceled their campaign despite hitting the funding goal, it seems they decided to change direction and focus on creating a robust software API instead of delving into hardware production. In the meantime, they shared the design files for their prototype hardware. Hopefully some software for people to experiment with will follow suit.
Augmenting virtual experiences with fans is nothing new, but interfacing to the application doesn’t always have to be a challenge. The Superfan project for example discovered that many racing and simulator games already have motion and feedback data that can be accessed and used by custom hardware — as long as one has the right software tools, anyway.