Chemical haptics could make virtual reality even more immersive | Tech To See

VR headsets are currently capable of simulating realistic environments to make your brain believe it’s actually there. But the researchers of University of Chicago take it a step further by simulating physical sensations using chemicals applied to your skin.

The implementation seems basic, but the results are fascinating and could provide a way to make virtual reality even more immersive.

Univ.  of Chicago Chemical Haptic Image.

This innovative method, called “chemical haptics”Consists of triggering various stimuli on the skin using different chemicals. The chemicals are delivered using a special system of wearable patches and pumps that can be worn anywhere on the body. As long as direct skin contact is possible, the patches will work, including on the face. Studies claim that the chemicals themselves are safe for humans.

There are five different chemicals to simulate five different physical sensations. Menthol is used to create a feeling of freshness, such as walking outside in cold weather. Lidocaine, often used as a local anesthetic, can be used to simulate a feeling of numbness on the skin. Capsaicin, the chemical behind your favorite spicy dish, is used to create heat or a feeling of heat. Sanshool creates a tingling sensation on the skin, while cinnamaldehyde simulates a tingling sensation and is potentially useful in teaching negative feedback.

The researchers created a video to show how each of the sensations could be used. They have created a rudimentary VR game in which the player travels through different environments and has a virtual armband that allows them to interact with their surroundings.

For example, when the virtual cuff begins to bypass, the chemical patches release sanshool to simulate a shock. The player also travels through different environments to simulate heat or cold.

So why is all of this important? Well, there has been a resurgence of interest in VR and how it could be applied in recent weeks. Facebook recently changed its name to Meta to signal its goal of creating the Metaverse, an evolution of the Internet that sees social interaction not only on a screen, but in fully realized 3D virtual worlds.

In the novel Loan Player One, there were advanced haptic combinations that offered realistic sensations of different textures and surfaces while being connected to a virtual world called OASIS. This research could be a springboard to this kind of pursuit if the metaverse ever materializes.


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