VR headsets are currently able to simulate realistic environments in order to trick your brain into thinking that it is actually there. But researchers at the University of Chicago go a step further by simulating physical sensations by applying chemicals to the skin.
It seems easy to implement, but the results are fascinating and could offer a way to make VR even more immersive.
This innovative method, called “chemical haptics“Involves triggering different stimuli on the skin with different chemicals. The chemicals are released through a special system of portable plasters and pumps that can be worn anywhere on the body. As long as direct skin contact is possible, the plasters work – also on the face. The studies claim that the chemicals are safe for humans by themselves.
There are five different chemicals to simulate five different bodily sensations. Menthol is used to create a feeling of coolness, such as going outside on a cold day. Lidocaine, which is often used as a local anesthetic, can be used to simulate a numbing sensation on the skin. Capsaicin, the chemical behind your favorite spicy food, is used to create warmth or a feeling of warmth. Sanshool creates a tingling sensation on the skin, while cinnamaldehyde simulates a stinging sensation and is potentially useful for conveying negative feedback.
The researchers created a Video to show how each of the sensations could be used. They have developed a rudimentary VR game in which the player walks through different environments and has a virtual bracelet that allows them to interact with their surroundings.
For example, when the virtual bracelet is short-circuited, the chemical patches release Sanshool to simulate shock. The player also walks through different environments to simulate heat or cold.
Why is it all important? Well, in the past few weeks there has been renewed interest in VR and how it could be applied. Facebook recently changed its name to meta to signal its focus on creating the metaverse, an evolution of the internet that sees social interaction not just on a screen but in fully realized 3D virtual worlds.
In the novel Ready player one, there were advanced haptic suits that provided realistic sensations of various textures and surfaces while logged into a virtual world called OASIS. This research could be a stepping stone for these types of suits if the metaverse ever materializes.
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