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Novel 'Marionette' Accessory Might Enable VR Users to Touch and Feel Objects

This device could be a game-changer during the boring lockdown days.

Virtual reality technology is here; however, there are some reasons why it hasn't completely caught on by the people yet.

One reason is that while today's systems can create immersive visual experiences, they don't appeal to all of our five senses — in this case, specifically, we cannot touch and feel objects. 

However, that seems to be changing soon. Researchers from Carnegie Mellon University developed a new device that can simulate the feel of obstacles and heavy objects by attaching multiple strings to the hands. 

Novel 'Marionette' Accessory Might Enable VR Users to Touch and Feel Objects
Source: Future Interfaces Group/YouTube

SEE ALSO: THE IMPORTANT ROLE VIRTUAL REALITY PLAYS IN THE LIFE OF ENGINEERS

How does it work? 

Wireality is a worn VR haptic system prototype that utilizes retractable wires that can be locked to accurately arrest individual joints on the hands in 3D space. This makes forming tangible interactions with objects such as walls, furniture, and railings possible.

Novel 'Marionette' Accessory Might Enable VR Users to Touch and Feel Objects
Source: Future Interfaces Group/YouTube

Here is how it works: Let's say that you've got your VR goggles on and you're nearing a wall. The mechanism locks the device's strings when your hand is near the wall and you immediately feel like you're really touching the wall when in reality your hand is just hovering over the air. 

Moreover, the string mechanism enables people to feel the contours of a virtual sculpture and sense resistance when pushing objects. You can even give a high five to a virtual character, which means your hand will never be left hanging. 

Minimal weight and low costs

The team used spring-loaded retractors to make the device possible. These are similar to those in key chains or ID badges, and with the added ratchet mechanism, the springs keep the strings taut. 

In order to engage the latch, only a small amount of electricity is needed which makes the system energy efficient

Novel 'Marionette' Accessory Might Enable VR Users to Touch and Feel Objects
Source: Future Interfaces Group/YouTube

Thanks to this system, the device ratchets are engaged in a sequence whenever the user is in proximity to the virtual barrier. When the person withdraws their hand, the latches disengage.

This gives the device numerous advantages since the spring-loaded strings reduce weight, consume little battery power, and keep costs low. The entire device weighs less than 10 ounces and it is rather cheap since, according to the researchers, a mass-produced version could cost less than $50.

Such a device could be extremely useful in VR games and experiences that involve interactions with physical objects, like mazes and virtual museums. Wouldn't such technology be spectacular during these lockdown days that have got us climbing up the real walls?

The full paper on the research can be found here.

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