Taking VR Subaquatic

One of the biggest limitations in the ‘reality’ part of virtual reality is the disconnect between the things that we are seeing, and what our bodies feel. When we pick something up, we don’t feel what we are picking up, we feel the controller. Movement is regularly done with a joy stick rather than our legs, and this disjointing experience removes the viewer from really feeling like they are a part of the virtual world. There are options looking to solve this, but none are perfect. There is one fascinating alternative that creates a synchronized experience for mind and body .

Tech company Avegant works with VR and mixed reality, designing the closest thing to a hologram that I’ve yet to see with their mixed reality Light Field projections. They have also created several virtual experiences designed for use while submerged underwater. The combination of a waterproof headset and a completely submerged user is a potent duo. It creates a new type of immersion where the viewers experience and the virtual world are completely simpatico.

Avegant prepared two experiences for their aquatic experiment. The first placed viewers in a coral reef. With the headset on and in the water, the viewer wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between swimming in the ocean above a coral reef and the reality of the swimming pool (as long as the user doesn’t bump their head against the edge of the pool). What’s amazing is that with only the waterproofed headset, Avegant is able to create a completely immersive experience. There is no haptic devices or treadmills required. This is an easily replicable experience that can serve as excellent example for the future of immersive VR.

The second experience that Avegant had prepared was a spacewalk, where the user was free floating in the cosmos. I think this is where the application of VR really shines. It is a creative way to give users the ability to experience something impossible. The user feels weightless floating in the pool and the visuals of the virtual environment support the imagery, working together to realistically create the unique feeling of being in space.

Compare this experience to the VR program Home by BBC Media Applications Technologies Limited. In Home, the viewer takes on the role of an astronaut doing repairs on the International Space Station. But the user’s physical experience is still standing on solid ground. While Home is still an extraordinary use of VR, the physical experience of the user is not the same as their virtual experience.

The future of virtual reality is creating a cohesive experience for the viewer, where both mind and body are taken into a digital space. Subaquatic VR is a modern example of what VR is heading towards. One thing I would like to see is an interactive experience that takes advantage of its physical immersion.

Learn more about Avagant here at their website:

https://www.avegant.com

Feeling VR: Haptic Feedback for the Consumer

Virtual reality is a medium rooted in turning stories into experiences. We are able not just witness an event in 16:9, but to experience it as though we were there. Whether it is a game or 360 video, we are able to be present for something we would otherwise have missed. As the tech develops, new possibilities are rapidly developing, making the technology increasingly immersive. One exciting advancement is haptic feedback, which allows the VR user to physically feel their virtual environment.

There are lots of options out there currently, all offering different approaches. One only has to browse through Kickstarter to find many different groups all trying to get their version of the device off the ground. And it isn’t all the stuff of science fiction either, there are several versions of a haptic feedback device available to consumers already. These don’t have much supported software currently and most of the technology is working its way through the hands of developers. This means that information on pricing for a lot of the equipment is currently unavailable, however, for systems that do have a listed price it ranges from $500-$1500 dollars. Lets take a look at a few of the options out there.

First up is the VR Touch, a small cap that goes on the end of the finger and works by vibrating when you would touch something in the virtual reality. It is limited, offering only a signal that contact has been made, but it still a massive step toward immersion.  It also only affects the tip of the finger, where other alternatives offer much greater coverage. More information can be found on the VR Touch web page: https://www.gotouchvr.com

The HaptX VR Glove offers a more intricate approach using a “microfluidic technology” in the gloves to put pressure on the fingers. It covers the entire hand, giving a sense of touch to the fingers and the palm. It is very hefty, weighing down the user and attached to a computer by a thick bundle of cables. HaptX had promised a future in full body Haptics technology. For more information on their glove and other tech: https://haptx.com

Next lets take a look at another option for haptic feedback in the hands, the Sense Glove. This glove only rumbles and restricts the motion of the fingers when contacting a virtual object, but is not as entertainment focused as other options. It has already found use in training employees to assemble products digitally before working with real equipment and materials. The makers, Sense Glove (named after their flagship product), have said they are focusing on business to business applications of virtual reality rather than entertainment.  These kind of products not only give haptic feedback, but also a much more detailed form of motion control, tracking each individual finger, like you can see in the video below. More info can be found here on their website:  https://www.senseglove.com

Finally, lets look at an option meant to give a much greater degree of haptic feedback for use in VR gaming, covering the torso and arms. This is the bHaptics Tactsuit, which consists of a vest and two bands that wrap around the forearms. Users are able to feel the environment around them and the effects it has on their virtual avatar. One example given is in a zombie-based shooter the user was able to feel the zombies striking their body, as well as the recoil caused by firing their weapon, as you can see in the demo below. This kind of sensory input vastly enhances the immersion in a virtual world. The technologies discussed here are only the tip of the iceberg, as more versions of haptic feedback are created, and more uses are discovered.