A new haptic armband allows a user in a virtual reality space to experience the sensation of being stroked.
What may sound like a reasonably small and iterative development could in fact turn out to be a major step forward in the creation of virtual worlds that feel real (as well as looking real).
Developer Heather Culbertson at the University of Southern California Viterbi School of Engineering has created the “haptic” armband to offer the all-important sense of touch.
The prototype is a sleeve that wraps around your forearm with a row of wired small speakers on it, that accurately mimics the sensation of a finger running down the arm.
Cuthbertson and her team are focused on the uses of this type of tech for “social VR” or what she calls “social haptics”.
Culbertson told Venturebeat this month: “We’re trying to create a pleasant sensation on the arm, a soothing, stroking sensation.
“If you think of haptic devices up until now, they’ve been very—kind of annoying, almost? Buzzing, not feeling very natural. That’s what we focus on in this lab, a way to create hardware and signals that make haptic interactions feel natural, mimicking what you feel in real life.
“With this device, it’s a set of voice coil actuators. These are capable of playing vibration. They’re essentially speakers. We can play vibration through them, but we actually use them to display motion. They move up and down by a couple of millimeters. We use this to create that pleasant stroking sensation on the arm.”
“If you think of Skype or other interactions online, that’s limited to video and audio now. But when we’re interacting face to face, you begin with a handshake. If you’re talking to your family you might have a pat on the back, a sympathetic touch on the arm. We want to convey those very natural, very common social touch interactions. This device is a way to create those stroking sensations, because those are very common in creating and displaying sympathy or sadness or love.
“We’re pretty close in terms of ideas for how we could integrate this with currently available games or movies, entertainment.”