When the virtual world is no longer imaginable?

Touch is sense that humans rely the most after sight!! The ability to perceive touch gives us a wealth of information about the environment around us. Without our sense of touch, we wouldn’t feel our feet on the floor when we walk nor would we sense when something sharp cut us. It is truly astounding how much we rely on our sense of touch and this is the very disconnection that we see in Virtual reality.

We can see the objects in the virtual world but we are unable to feel it. This absence of feel is not limited to VR alone. The online shopping world, similarly has been powerless in the past with regards to this aspect. This is one of the reasons why the ability of what this market is truly capable of achieving is limited today.

Incorporating a sense of touch therefore, is the next big thing in VR. A number of companies are working on bringing the sense of touch into the VR experience, with a majority depending on the use of some form of external clothing like gloves or body suits.

Even though this solution seems simpler in implementation, the feedback from end users is, the unnatural feeling one gets when wearing the devices mentioned above. Feeling through a latex barrier is never the same, we all know that feeling!

In addition, the experiences are limited by the number of actuators or motors that maybe configured into the assembly (figure – a). One path that is being adopted, is the use of field generators. Think of them as microwaves but not of the cooking variety. Field generators react with the body to mimic sensations that would otherwise require a physical object. The initial tests, have been successful in letting the users feel resistance when they encounter some obstructions (figure – b).
The tech is still in its early stages and still has a long way to go, with companies working on bringing in other forms of awareness such as smell and temperature. Just imagine, being able to feel the fabrics before you buy it online! Feeling the jab when you get shot in the game or even feel your loved one’s touch when they call you from 1000 miles away. That is the goal! A true experience on all levels.

Here’s to a handshake with you in VR in the near future!!!

Augmented Reality
Figure A- Image courtesy UC San Diego
Augmented Reality
Figure B- Image Credit: Dean Takahashi