It’s rather amazing how far VR has come in recent years. Home appliances are by no means uncommon and their cost is about the same as your standard console. With platforms like the Oculus Quest 2, you don’t even need a computer or cables to get the most immersive on-demand virtual reality experience.
But virtual reality is about dreaming big. It is not called a hypothetical name that is close to reality. Virtual reality is all about making experiences feel real in ways other media can’t yet. New products are released all the time like VR treadmills and haptic body kits to try and improve the experience, but there are a lot of nuances that we can’t yet translate into digital realms.
However, there is another hurdle in fact that was brilliantly overcome by a team at the University of Chicago (via New Scientist). Jasmine Lu, Ziwei Liu, Jas Brooks, and Pedro Lopes are developing a new type of haptic feedback they call chemical haptics, and it looks really cool. In addition to warmth, tingling and numbness.
Lu’s website is talking about a paper that will soon be released to the public. He displays two devices the team built to deliver liquid stimuli to the skin of the wearer. They are soft silicone patches that are placed on the skin and use small pumps to pass chemicals to the wearer. One passes through the face over the bridge of the nose, delivering chemicals to the cheeks while the other sits on the forearms.
The summary states that the team worked with different chemicals to deliver different sensations. Five chemicals have been found to provide lasting results at safe doses, although my sensitive skin is somewhat of a concern. Sanshool provides a tingling sensation, lidocaine is numbing, and cinnamaldehyde feels great and causes a stinging sensation, and the warmth and cooling are delivered by capsaicin and menthol respectively.
The team worked on five different VR experiences using chemical touches, and users rated these experiences as more immersive with the new technology than without it.
The use cases of games are very exciting. Being able to simulate the weather in games with hot and cold sensations sounds like it would be very immersive. Feeling heat from a nearby explosion or the sensation of numbness in an affected part of the body are also interesting concepts. Maybe in the near future we will all be buying chemical cans for our VR machines to really feel the burn.
But that’s not all these teams are working on. There is a dexterity-increasing device for electrical muscle stimulation. Another changes the way things feel when touched, and a whole body of touch-related research. I’m excited to see what future games will look like with people like these in the box.