Virtual reality holds the promise of an immersive experience that can satisfy our senses to a level comparable with… well, reality. The field has come a long way, but Sarah Vollmer makes a good point that many of the VR systems currently in use are bulky and difficult to transfer from person to person.
While headsets have become smaller and lighter and now feature improved motion tracking and resolution, their ability to affect the user’s other senses hasn’t seen nearly the same advancement. Haptic feedback systems need to catch up with headsets, and how to unobtrusively allow users feel simulated physical contact in VR is an area Sarah is researching as part of her PhD work. This is the topic of her 2019 Hackaday Superconference talk which you’ll find embedded below.
Sarah brought along one of her current prototype systems which acts as a central hub for up to eight different actuators. The PCB for the sensor board includes two cutouts through which an elastic belt can be passed to secure them to wrists or other parts of the body. Each board accepts either a eccentric rotating mass (ERM) or linear resonant actuator (LRA) — two types of vibration motors with ERM being what you might associate as a pager motor while the LRA encapsulates the unbalanced weight in a disc spinning on an axis perpendicular to the PCB. Open Sound Control is used to send signals to these modules in sync with actions in the virtual environment.
Where things get really interesting is in Sarah’s concept for unobtrusive wearables for your hands and wrists. Current technology uses gloves, but she’s pursuing rings and bracelets. The hope is that rings around the wrist and fingers can be used for both granular motion tracking and haptic feedback. Pumping air or liquids into bladders built into the material could provide the sensation of pressure, and she’s even looking into the possibility of using direct electric stimulus.
Having to don bulky or heavy equipment has the opposite effect from what virtual reality is trying to achieve. Making systems both light-weight and tightly reactive to the digital environment is key to making the virtual more real and something we can all look forward to as this research continues.
6 thoughts on “In Pursuit Of Haptics For A Better VR Experience”
This needs to get good enough I can slap someone across the internet.
The haptics are not yet up and running but the projection is apparently fully functional.
Be careful what U wish for. Legal ramifications here I THINK ! MR.D
>> while the LRA encapsulates the unbalanced weight in a disc spinning on an axis perpendicular to the PCB
Uhh, pretty sure it moves linearly along the axis instead of spinning.
Here is an animation https://www.nfpmotor.com/products-linear-resonant-actuators-lras.html
There was a lot of activity in the area of haptics at ACM SIGGRAPH conferences many years ago, but then the interest seemed to have diminished, until recently when it once again seems to be a topic of discussion and actual devices. Yet, much of the current activity seems to be limited to just being able to convey the impression of touch, but not actually concentrating on the type of touch. For example, it would feel quite different if you were to pet the fur of a kitten than if you were to pet the quills of a porcupine. Texture is a function of haptics that needs much more emphasis.
So.. basically that whole video was to say that they’re trying to make better looking packages to place a bunch of haptic motors on your body. Cool, I guess.. but still these are still buzzers. It’s too bad she didn’t speak to the actual feel of such a system. Are these applied in a manner that tricks our system into feeling the sensation of pressure or motion?
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