Magic Touch of Haptics in the Virtual World

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In the last few years, AR and VR technologies have seen a tremendous rise and are further expected to grow exponentially. AR and VR today find wide applications in retail, entertainment, education, medical and automobile industries to name a few. A virtual fitting room will help you… (Featured image is for representational purpose alone and has been sourced from https://pixabay.com/en/touch-god-gift-salvation-1976544/)

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In the last few years, AR and VR technologies have seen a tremendous rise and are further expected to grow exponentially. AR and VR today find wide applications in retail, entertainment, education, medical and automobile industries to name a few. A virtual fitting room will help you visualize multiple apparels on you and also customize the 3D avatar of the furniture placement in your house, with just a slide of your finger. But while AR/VR have become advanced over the years in providing a multi-sensory experience with games like PokemonGo hitting the market, the current technology has still not been able to provide on a large scale the touch or feel of the objects you’re interacting with. This lack of sensation makes you realize that you are not present in a real environment.

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Researchers are trying to overcome this limitation of haptics and enable users to feel virtual objects by modifying a user’s tactile perception of the object. A few years ago, researchers at Disney developed a haptic feedback algorithm to recreate 3D textures such as bumps, ridges, edges, protrusions etc. on touch screen surfaces. This works on the principle that by modifying the friction between the fingertip and a surface, the skin can be made to stretch artificially as it comes in contact with various images on the touchscreen (or any other smooth surface). This creates an illusion of surface variations enabling a user to feel anything from the softness of a rubber ball to the grainy texture of beach sand, or the texture of an elephant’s skin, the smoothness of silk cloth, or even the ripples formed in water. That means that anything that can be presented on a screen can be touched. A patent US9501145B2 is assigned to Disney covering this aspect.

Method for generating signal through electrovibration for touch surfaces(US9501145B2)

Method for generating signal through electrovibration for touch surfaces(US9501145B2)

Allowing a person to sense the texture of a remote object on the touch screen of a device can be used to transmit the feel of everyday objects. The technology can transform online shopping experience; the user can feel the fabric texture by moving his/her hand on the screen. Imagine the potential of this technology for imparting education to the visually impaired. It could even modify the touch sensitive screens in vehicular interfaces. Operating vehicular controls by using tactile sensation would help the driver focus his attention on the road rather than on touch screen. The possibilities are endless.

The video below by Tanvas shows the applications of this technology in any field you can think of:  consumer electronics, gaming, advertisement, retail, automobiles, etc. The company has also filed a few patent applications in this domain.

Virtual reality immersion is about recreating the world around us and interacting with it seamlessly. Presently VR gives you the feeling of presence in a location very efficiently, but the impression ends as soon as you try to touch anything within its environment.  Researchers today are trying to break that barrier. Simulated environments having haptic feedback will prove to be useful in training employees in different fields, including medicine. A medical intern could be trained by making him perform remote operations. He can be trained to feel the difference between touching a tooth or the gum.

Ultrahaptics, a company founded in 2013, has a patent issued to them (US9612658B2) which describes the use of sound waves to create a tactile sensation. Their product uses ultrasound technology to send vibrations to your fingers in mid-air thus allowing you to touch and feel virtual objects by just moving your hand in the air. This technology finds application in VR games, multimedia and automotive.  You can use vehicular controls without taking your eyes off the road.

Method and apparatus for the creation of an acoustic field providing tactile sensations for use with an interactive device(US 9612658 B2)

Method and apparatus for the creation of an acoustic field providing tactile sensations for use with an interactive device(US9612658B2)

Another type of product to provide better immersion in virtual reality is a body-suit described in patent application US20160266645A1. Apart from providing the sense of sight and sound, the wearer of this suit will also be able to feel the climate in the virtual environment. While primarily described for use within a gaming environment, it will also find uses in education and healthcare. You can even transfer your touch to another person sitting at a location far away meaning that it is possible to virtually hug your friend sitting miles apart. A system the performing similar function is described in the patent US9652037B2, which allows a user to feel the texture, motion and temperature of virtual objects.

SVirtual reality human-machine interfaces, and more specifically to immersive virtual reality human-machine interfaces(US9652037B2).

Virtual reality human-machine interfaces, and more specifically to immersive virtual reality human-machine interfaces(US9652037B2)

Virtual reality is about recreating the world around us and interacting with it seamlessly, which simply cannot be achieved without the touch and feel of the objects within. Only by tapping into the relatively untouched field of artificial touch will we be able to bring the world that has always existed in fiction to reality.

Shagun Joshi
Shagun Joshi

A patent engineer by profession, Shagun likes the smell of old books. She has interest in reading about current technologies that can bridge the gap between reality and fiction.


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