It is somewhat staggering how much virtual reality has advanced in recent years. Home appliances are by no means uncommon and cost about as much as your standard console. With platforms like the Oculus Quest 2, you don’t even need a computer or cables to get that on-demand VR immersion.
But virtual reality is all about the big dream. It’s not called Virtual Close to Reality. Virtual reality is about making experiences real in a way that other mediums just can’t yet. New products are coming out all the time like VR treadmills and haptic body kits to try and improve the experience, but there are so many nuances that we can’t translate into digital worlds just yet.
However, another hurdle to reality is wisely cleared by a team from 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’ve dubbed chemical haptics, and it sounds super cool. As well as hot, tingling and numb.
Lu’s website talks about an article that will be released soon. It shows two devices built by the team that deliver liquid stimulants to the wearer’s skin. They are soft silicone patches that sit on the skin and use micropumps to push chemicals through to the wearer. One crosses the face through the bridge of the nose, delivering chemicals to the cheeks while the other sits on the forearms.
The summary explains that the team worked with different chemicals to deliver different sensations. Five chemicals were found to provide long-lasting results at safe doses, although my sensitive skin was a little worried. Sanshool provides a tingling sensation, lidocaine for numbing, cinnamaldehyde sounds wonderful and induces tingling sensations, and warming and cooling are delivered by capsaicin and menthol respectively.
The team worked on five different VR experiences with chemical haptics and users found them to be much more immersive with the new technology than without.
The use cases for games are quite exciting. Being able to simulate the weather in games with hot and cold sensations seems to be very immersive. Feeling the heat from a nearby explosion or feeling numb to an injured body part are also interesting concepts. Maybe in the near future we’ll all be buying chemical packs for our VR machines to really feel the burn.
But that’s not all these teams are working on. There is a device to increase dexterity for electrical muscle stimulation. Another that changes how objects feel when you touch them, and a whole bunch of touch-related research. I can’t wait to see what the games of the future will look like with people like this on the case.