Researchers demonstrate haptic VR accessory for mouth sensations
Ultrasound on the lips could bring a genuine VR kissing sensation – and much more.
Engineering meets future vision meets HR Giger: Haptics products for VR regularly amaze in form and function. They trigger at least as many sensations in the brain as on the body. The new mouth haptic accessory also falls into this category.
Here’s to a haptics coffee with VR cigarette
Researcher Vivian Shen of Carnegie Mellon University’s Robotics Institute shows off her fancy VR accessory at a human-computer interaction (ACM CHI) conference: A “thin, compact, beamforming array of ultrasonic transducers” attaches to the bottom of the VR headset and wires directly to it.
The transducers target the mouth, on which they can trigger various effects such as point impulses, swipes, and persistent vibrations. The user can feel the ultrasonic effects on the lips, teeth or tongue, which the research team says enables “new and interesting” VR experiences.
As examples, the researchers cite virtual cobwebs that can be felt on the face, or liquids such as water or coffee that can be sensed on the lips. Allegedly, the system is even able to credibly simulate the feeling of a virtual cigarette – good for virtual smoking cessation? The team also cites headwinds or rain whipping in your face as other examples of haptic simulations that can be felt on your face through their system.
First evaluation confirms immersion enhancement
“The mouth is of particular interest, as it is a close second in tactile sensitivity to the fingertips, offering a unique opportunity to add fine-grained haptic effects,” the researchers write.
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The team tested the mouth-haptic device with some test subjects, who confirmed an immersion-enhancing effect – which is not surprising at first since there is no mouth-haptic solution by default.
According to the researchers, the ultrasound system is fully integrated into the VR headset, so there is no need to wear any additional accessories – an important feature if such a haptic product should actually come onto the market one day. VR headset manufacturers could potentially integrate it into the bottom of their devices.
Of course, there are still many questions to be answered in advance, such as the price-performance ratio, the additional weight in the headset or the software standardization of the mouth haptic effects. After all, the most sophisticated mouth haptics system is of no use if development studios do not support it.
The research paper, “Mouth Haptics in VR using a Headset Ultrasound Phased Array,” by Vivian Shen, Craig Shultz, and Chris Harrison, won the best paper award at ACM CHI. The conference will be held between April 29 and May 5, when the paper should also be available with more details on the technique.