WHY THIS MATTERS IN BRIEF
Haptics are already being built into clothing but this is a new and interesting take on the technology.
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Ever wanted the feelings of spiders in and around your mouth on demand, whenever you want? Well you’re in luck, you wonderful weirdo, because Virtual Reality (VR) is coming to the rescue.
New haptic technologies, that let you feel things that aren’t there like a hug from a remote friend or a rugby tackle from someone in another city, are always being worked into VR, and according to IFLScience, a group of scientists from Carnegie Mellon University’s Future Interfaces Group are truly going above and beyond. The team has fitted an Oculus Quest 2 with ultrasonic transducers, which can generate ultrasonic energy and weirdly it’s the same kind of ultrasound technology used to create tractor beams, yes … really. For some reason, they’ve pointed this straight at the mouth to add unique sensations to the VR experience.
The energy directed onto your mouth creates sensations that can be pulsations, or swiping motions across the lips, or ongoing vibrations, all at different speeds and intensities. It’s said that these can approximate real feelings like wind, or perhaps, yes, even spiders.
I keep coming back to the spiders because that’s one of the demos depicted in the video. It shows someone walking through a haunted forest with spiderwebs and how the swiping motion is used by the ultrasonic transducers to mimic the feel of web brushing across your face. Then a spider jumps onto the player and more haptics are engaged so you can really feel all eight of those legs trying to enter your unwilling mouth.
Calmer, less completely insane iterations involved simulating a water fountain against the users’ lips, or the feeling of drinking a coffee. It does seems like there could be plenty of uses for this new kind of mouth focussed haptic feedback – especially as we see more researchers around the world developing virtual foods, which this tech could compliment nicely.
It would be even more interesting, however, to see if this tech could be integrated with other recently tested haptics. Researchers are working on chemical haptics for sensations like cold and heat, which could potentially up the effectiveness of those drink simulations. There’s also speculation about virtual kissing booths, but I think I’ll stick to spiders for now.
The team behind the ultrasonic transducers conducted surveys after people experienced the new sensations. Generally speaking the immersion was boosted by having these new mouth-feels introduced to VR. Given they can be attached to any headset, these might actually make their way to the general public, though we don’t expect to see them any time soon.