Virtual reality has been a very long time coming, however probably the most notable strides have come in the past few years. Oculus has led a revitalization in Virtual Reality tech, the development of which had slowed considerably over the previous decade. Now, a resurgence in consumer VR products has resulted in great strides, and inexpensive virtual reality kits like the Samsung Gear VR make virtual reality accessible to almost anybody.
However there is still one key piece missing from the virtual reality puzzle that prevents the consumer from being really immersed in a VR experience. That will soon change, however, because of work being carried out by some researchers in Germany.
A group of researchers from the Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) lab at Germany’s Hasso Plattner Institute have created working prototypes of a device they call Impacto. The gadget is integrated into a band that may be worn on the arm, leg or foot of a virtual reality person. When mixed with a VR experience that incorporates the HCI researchers’ special software, Impacto simulates contact on the wearer so that she or he can really feel objects virtual reality. At least, to an extent.
Examples demonstrated by the group include a boxing sport where the consumer can actually feel the impact from blocked punches on his or her arm, and a game where the participant bounces a soccer ball on his or her foot and can really feel every strike.
Of note, Impacto isn’t a simple vibrate motor shoved into a plastic box. The machine combines a haptic vibration engine with electrical muscle stimulation to actually create a sensation of pushing or pulling, therefore more closely mimicking the sensation of contact from actual physical objects.
“The key concept that allows the small and lightweight impacto device to simulate a powerful hit is that it decomposes the stimulus: it renders the tactile aspect of being hit by tapping the skin utilizing a solenoid; it adds impact to the hit by thrusting the person’s arm backwards utilizing electrical muscle stimulation,” the team, led by Pedro Lopes, stated in an summary covering its research paper on Impacto. “The device is self-contained, wireless, and sufficiently small for wearable use, thus leaves the person unencumbered and able to walk around freely in a virtual environment. The gadget is of generic form, permitting it to even be worn on legs, in order to enhance the experience of kicking, or merged into props, such as a baseball bat.”
Here’s a video of the HCI team’s Impacto prototype in action:
Use cases for Impacto are limited in the meanwhile because of the device’s shape and size, however it’s totally possible to use the same technology in both smaller and bigger units. As a result, different Impacto modules could possibly be combined to form a suit of sorts that may give the wearer multiple contact points. So, rather than only being able to feel a jab to the arm or a soccer ball bouncing off of a foot, virtual reality users may feel contact from VR objects throughout their bodies. The researchers mentioned that they already have plans to create new Impacto modules for the stomach area and shoulders.