Beyond haptics: blurring the line between your virtual avatar and your body
In the space of a few short years, virtual reality has gone from being a technology of the future to part of the mainstream. Devices ranging from the humble Google Cardboard to the Oculus Rift have invaded our living rooms, and VR is set to transform everything from education to the sex industry.
But if VR is to achieve the mass appeal many are predicting then it needs to feel, as well as look, as real as possible, and not just like we’re passively watching a TV set strapped to our faces; the rest of our body needs to be as engaged as fully as our eyes.
Enter haptic technology, which allows us to literally feel what we’re experiencing in VR. You’ve likely come across haptic tech, sometimes referred to as just ‘haptics’, before, for example when you’ve played a video game and felt a rumble in the handset.
Now companies like Tesla Suit and Hardlight VR are bringing that experience to your whole body, with suits that can move and shake and vibrate in specific areas as you explore virtual worlds.
But let’s slow down for a second. We have to because this haptic tech is far from becoming mainstream and, crucially, you can’t just put a haptic suit on someone and expect a VR experience to feel real.
That’s why there’s a lot of research going on into what’s known as ‘virtual embodiment’.
This is a complex and fairly new area of study, but it’s concerned with using technology, virtual representation, avatars, storytelling, haptics and all kinds of other subtle visual, auditory and sensory cues to make you feel like you’re inhabiting another body. Whether that’s an avatar of yourself, someone else or even something else.