With haptic suits and vision systems galore, VR is quickly becoming an integral part of immersive experiences everywhere! And as such, we should push it to the next level, which starts with well-designed hardware and responsive equipment.
Yes, VR devices need a killer app, but they also need something that can heighten the experience at hand and make everyone say, “I have to try that; it looks so awesome!” This is exactly what haptic VR suits are offering. This technology looks like a gift from the future, but behind those sleek black suits are haptic sensors that deliver the magic of imaginary worlds to players’ fingertips—literally!
However, if you thought VR haptic suits were something new, you are wrong. They’ve been here for more than two decades, and it all started when Aura Systems came up with the Aura Interactor, the granddaddy of all haptic suits.
Meet the Aura Interactor
The Interactor was relatively simple. Users could wear it on their chest or back after connecting the device to an audio jack. You see, the Aura Interactor worked by transforming sound into haptic feedback. The suit worked with every game, movie, or song because it used sound to provide haptic feedback. It was pretty popular, with hundreds of thousands of units sold, which was a huge achievement back in the 90s.
The Interactor showed that haptic feedback suits really had potential. Honestly, Aura Systems should’ve invested money in the next generation of the suit; their product was so much cool—and effective! It revolutionized the way people consumed sound-based media, and on top of that, it was more popular than other breakthrough tech of the time, like early stages of 3D or VR.
Unfortunately, Aura Systems never followed through on a new generation of the suit. However, many manufacturers have invested in different forms of haptic feedback, all of which may have a role in future tech as VR systems and more become commonplace in multiple industries.
The most basic form of feedback is called vibrotactile feedback, and it is based on (you’ve probably guessed it already) vibration. The most simple example of vibrotactile feedback is your phone. It contains a vibrating motor that is capable of vibrating the device, notifying you when a new message or an email arrives—or emulating keystrokes while you type on a virtual keyboard. This is the simplest way to provide users with tactile feedback, but it also lacks in precision and variety.
Next, we have force feedback, which is capable of much more than providing simple vibration-based tactile feedback. They go a step further by offering stronger feedback that targets our muscles and ligaments. The simplest devices offering this type of feedback are steering wheels, which incorporate strong motors capable of offering a realistic feel of driving a car on a console or a PC.
Pneumatic-based microfluidic haptic feedback uses microfluidic systems made out of pneumatic actuators and microfluidic air channels that are capable of providing a highly detailed haptic feedback. The fluid flows through channels and is used by pneumatic actuators to simulate touch. These actuators are very precise, and they support many levels of activation, simulating different levels of pressure. They can make you feel all sorts of sensations like movement, texture, shape, size, and more.
There’s also electrotactile feedback, the most advanced out of them all. This type of haptic feedback is capable of inducing all sorts of sensations—because electrotactile actuators (electrodes) not only stimulate tactile receptors, but also nerve endings below them. This allows for all sorts of stimulations because every external stimulus we feel is transformed into an electrical signal that travels to our brain, which interprets this impulse as a touch, or cold breeze, or pain.
This is why electrotactile feedback technology has the highest potential to become the go-to tech when it comes to haptic VR suits; it simply is capable of providing every single form of sensation we can experience. Just imagine: With this kind of suit, along with a pair of gloves, a person could be trained in surgery. They could feel the cold of the Antarctic winter or the pain (reduced for safety reasons) and force of being hit with a bullet.
The Best Feedback Out There
In my opinion, electrotactile feedback is obviously the way to go, and it should be the goal that every design and electronics company should aim for. Yes, other forms of haptic feedback are nice, and they may be easier to implement, but only this one is capable of pushing simulation to a new level. We shouldn’t sacrifice ease for opening the door to the next level of immersion.
Who knows? Maybe we could make VR better than reality!
Featured image courtesy of MSC kaist on YouTube.