As virtual reality becomes increasingly accessible to the everyday consumer, discussion of the potential benefits and risks of this new technology has become an increasingly popular topic. While many have argued that virtual reality has many practical applications in business and education, others have expressed concerns about the short- and long-term side effects that virtual reality technology can have on the physical and mental health of those who use it widely.
Recently, researchers from Carnegie Mellon University’s Future Interfaces Group augmented the Meta Quest 2 (formerly Oculus Quest 2) in a way that adds a virtual sense of touch to users’ lips and mouths. While this new development will certainly excite many virtual reality enthusiasts, one example that researchers have used to demonstrate the new technology has been making wearers feel spiders crawling in and out of their mouths.
as explained IFLScienceThe Carnegie Mellon team devised a way to stimulate the human sense of touch by equipping the Meta Quest 2 with a series of ultrasonic transducers, devices that produce waves of sound energy at specific frequencies and angles. By projecting these waves onto the areas of the mouth and chin, the transducers activate the sensory cells, producing the sensation that these areas are being touched. With this method, Quest 2 can simulate a variety of touches through changing frequencies.
To demonstrate how ultrasonic transducers work, the team created a series of demos and several test users made their way through them. While some of the shows that were shown were somewhat fun, mimicking the experience of drinking water from a fountain or feeling the wind on your face as you bike down an open country road, the first show shown was downright terrifying. Here, the user had to walk through a dark and gloomy forest in the dead of night, pasting thick spider webs while ultrasonic transducers petted his face. Soon, an angry spider jumped up on the user’s face, and their reaction to the ultrasonic transducers feeling like the spider trying to make its way into the user’s mouth showed that the experience was real enough for them.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, the demo pitted the user against a larger spider, forcing him to blast the large spider to bits with an appropriately placed flare gun. While this ultimate victory may seem simplistic to some arachnophobes, the user’s victory came at the cost of spraying the spider’s guts. To wrap things up, the player finds themselves walking under a giant drooling spider, with hungry arthropod saliva dripping down their faces as they prepare for their next meal.
While this particular demo is sure to give users some nightmares, Future Interface Group’s revolutionary work takes virtual reality to a whole new level and offers insight into what the future of VR might look like. While the new technology is nowhere near complete, the team has expressed interest in integrating ultrasound transducers into consumer virtual reality devices. There is no doubt that incorporating touches opens up many exciting and frightening possibilities for future virtual reality experiences.
The most entertaining demonstrations show how simulated touch can be used to create relaxing, therapeutic experiences and enhance the soothing games that already exist such as blue. In turn, this new capability can also be incorporated into VR horror games such as Resident Evil 4 And Five Nights at Freddy’s VR: Help Wanted. With virtual reality increasingly integrated into social media, ultrasonic transducers can be used to enhance immersion in online meetings.
There are certainly some people who might be wary of the improvements that Future Inference Group has made to Quest 2. However, they seem to be proving that touch can be used to enhance the VR experience. As long as the various VR products that incorporate touch-based technology make it clear what the user is for, touches will be the future of VR.
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