The arrival of virtual reality has opened up a real market. Around the VR headsets, an ecosystem has developed that works to improve the user’s immersion by stimulating all his senses. Between gloves, suits, masks and electrodes, multisensory virtual reality should arrive faster than we think.
Virtual reality headsets are convincing enough to provide the user with a feeling of immersion. By simply stimulating his vision and hearing, they are able to project him into a virtual universe and make him forget reality for the duration of an experience. But immersion finds its limits when the user does not experience the sensations he expects in the virtually created environment.
It’s hard not to start doubting in the heat wave if the VR sends us to the top of snow-covered mountains. It is difficult to appreciate a ball game at its true value if you do not feel the weight and shape of the ball in your hands. Our virtual reality agency has faced this problem more than once, and has always succeeded in finding solutions.
In Top Floor, an experience that takes you to over 300m in height on the heights of Manhattan, we use fans to simulate the strong winds typical of heights and have created a device that allows the user to see his feet.
In Excalibur, we use Optitrack technology, taken from Motion Capture in movies so that the player, to face the dragon of experience, can wield a real sword in the real world and thus feel like a real hero.
In Save my Teddy, an experience developed with ENGIE, we use the Vive Trackers, the latest HTC Vive accessories to capture the movements of the user’s limbs, and integrate the real bear into virtual reality.
It goes without saying that our desire to transcend the experience of current virtual reality pushes us to constantly monitor in order to always stay one step ahead and offer ever more realistic and immersive content. Here are some accessories that should lead the technology into a new era, and we will be sure to talk about them again in the coming months:
Touch – When RV dresses you in haptics
In laboratories, many accessories related to the sense of touch are being manufactured. Indeed, of the three missing senses, it is the one that will most affect the user’s immersion. Similar to pieces of clothing or equipment, gloves, coveralls and shoes will soon be added to the virtual traveller’s toolbox when visiting other worlds.
The vast majority of these high-tech accessories will work with the haptic feedback. In other words, vibrations will make the wearer of the virtual reality headset feel shocks, injuries, temperatures, weights, textures and volumes, in order to amplify the realism of the experiences he or she will engage in.
Smell: fragrant capsules to stimulate the nose
Very soon, it will also be possible to stimulate the sense of smell of virtual reality users, as Ubisoft proved last year with its Nosulus Rift, which allowed you to smell farts in its South Park game… This marketing operation inspired many people, and several manufacturers have embarked on the creation of devices that explode odorous capsules in line with the events in the virtual universe.
Another project, even more ambitious, also attracts our attention, the FeelReal mask. Still in the prototype stage, this accessory, which is an extension of the virtual reality helmet, aims to provide the face with sensations of heat and cold, and to create synthetically and unlimitedly seven different types of odours including fire, flora, ocean and even gunpowder.
Taste: electrodes to simulate the taste of food
Now let’s go to Japan, more specifically to the ACM UIST (User Interface Software and Technology Symposium) in Tokyo. In 2016, Japanese researchers developed technologies that simulate the sensation of taste using electrodes placed on the tongue. By imitating temperature changes on the tongue, they deceive the neurons responsible for taste information in the individual. These devices should soon find their application in virtual reality.
During this 2016 edition of the AMC UIST, we also witnessed the emergence of a technology that reproduces the texture of food. It also works with electrodes, this time placed not on the tongue but on the jaw, imitating the user’s feeling of chewing. This discovery, which is still very experimental, should be coupled with the previous one so that RV users can eat (without filling their stomachs) in RV experiments.
Travel: virtual reality on a treadmill
One of the major barriers to a user’s complete immersion, in the current state of the market, is the difficulty in defining the most instinctive mode of travel in virtual reality. For so long the question has been to find solutions to allow the user to move without feeling uneasy, today it is about allowing him to move naturally.
Several methods of movement exist: teleportation, arm movements, fixing a precise point, but none can yet imitate the bipedal movement specific to humans. Treadmills can solve this problem by offering the helmet wearer the possibility to walk, run, squat and jump, but these equipment are expensive, cumbersome and difficult to set up. Other solutions of the same type, but more accessible, are expected to emerge this year.
SmartVR studio, the agency one step ahead
Virtual reality is a technology that is growing at an incredible rate. The 2017 RV is not the 2016 RV, and the 2018 RV will certainly not be the 2017 RV. Very soon, virtual reality headsets will be less expensive and will become accessible to the general public. But studios like ours and the many VR arcades that open around the world do not have to worry if they keep a regular watch.
When consumers finally have the best virtual reality headsets at home, our duty as technology professionals will be to stay one step ahead, and offer all these technological gems to come in our experiments to ensure a higher immersion than domestic RV. That’s exactly what we do at smartVR studio, and what we will continue to do.