Now you can feel the touch of objects in VR

Hyderabad: The first thing that comes to mind when we talk about Virtual Reality is the head-mounted display (HMD), which is one of the single most important factor that differentiates the immersive Virtual Reality systems from the traditional user interfaces. This combined with audio cues, including accurate ambient or environmental sounds and 3-D characteristics can create an immersive Virtual Reality experiences that is nearly real.

However, many researchers have been working on various different technologies including Haptic technologies or touch feed-back to that can stimulate the sense of touch allowing the users experience a true-to-life sensation, making the virtual world become ‘more real’.

Enters Wireality

This new shoulder-mounted device developed at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) will enable users to feel anything— particularly walls, appliances and furniture, a release published on the University’s website on Tuesday, said. The device that uses a string mechanism will allow people to touch and feel the contours of a sculpture, sense resistance when pushing a piece of furniture or even give a high five to a character in the virtual world, it said.

According to the release, Chris Harrison, assistant professor at university’s Human-Computer Interaction Institute (HCII), said: “Elements such as walls, furniture and virtual characters are key to building immersive virtual worlds, and yet contemporary VR systems do little more than vibrate hand controllers.”

The device uses multiple spring-loaded retractors, similar to those seen in key chains or ID badges along with an added electrically controlled latch that can be rapidly locked, which is attached to the hand and fingers and can simulate the sensation of touching obstacles and moving heavy objects. For instance, when the user moves his hand near a virtual wall the strings get locked simulating the sense of touching the wall. These latches automatically disengage when the user withdraws his hand. The spring-loaded strings of the device give it added advantage by reducing weight, consuming less battery power, and also in keeping the cost low.

“A Leap Motion sensor, which tracks hand and finger motions, is attached to the VR headset. When it senses that a user’s hand is in proximity to a virtual wall or other obstacles, the ratchets are engaged in a sequence suited to those virtual objects,” the release said.

Cathy Fang, the Product engineer of the project and a student at the CMU, who will graduate from CMU next month with a joint degree in mechanical engineering and human-computer interaction, said the spring-loaded strings of the shoulder-mounted device gives it added advantage by reducing its weight, consuming less battery power and also keeps its costs low. As per the release, the device which weighs less than 10 ounces will cost around $50 when manufactured on a commercial scale.

“The system would be suitable for VR games and experiences that involve interacting with physical obstacles and objects, such as a maze. It might also be used for visits to virtual museums,” said Fang.

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