and other experiences. As it stands now, it looks like
they’ve got a really great start.
But all of these companies have only partially solved the
last problem I want to talk about: tactile experiences.
As humans move through the world, all of their senses are constantly engaged. They can see the world around them and hear
the sounds of the birds chirping and people talking. They can
feel the breeze blowing past them, a drop of rain on the top of
their head, a hand on their shoulder, or the transition between
the sidewalk and a dirt path under their feet as they walk.
Sight and sound are powerful experiences, but recreating
the sense of touch in a virtual world is a very complex
problem. Our entire bodies are capable of pulling in
information through the skin. Temperature, moisture, and
pressure are all types of information that we can understand
without seeing or hearing anything.
This has largely been ignored in the virtual world. I
don’t believe it’s because developers and designers feel it’s
unimportant, but more likely because it’s a difficult problem
without a clear solution. Some gaming systems we’ve already
mentioned give players a gun-shaped controller which is
perfectly usable during FPS games.
This solution works great for FPS games, and since many
companies are using these games as an introduction for
their technology, it’s a great first step to enhance immersion,
and a quick win.
But as VR experiences expand, finding a universal
solution for tactile experiences will become more and more
challenging. Every physical prop that replicates something
in the virtual world reduces the flexibility of that scenario.
Imagine a virtual car prototype. A designer shows the
user the car they are designing via a VR headset to get
reactions. The user reaches out to touch the steering wheel,
but there’s nothing there. So the designer places an analog
for the steering wheel in place to increase engagement in the
prototype. The user now has a steering wheel to touch, but
now reaches out to touch the radio, which isn’t there, or the
turn signal knob, or the door release.
If the designer continues adding physical pieces to this
experience, eventually they’ve just built a physical model,
which is what they were trying to avoid by building the
virtual prototype. But without a tactile experience, they lose
one dimension of the experience they’re testing.
When researching the ART, my team and I worked
on discovering all sorts of interesting tactile technology
in development. Like REVEL and Aireal from Disney
Research. REVEL ( http://www.disneyresearch.com/project/
Another company called Zero Latency (https://
zerolatencyvr.com/) is taking a different approach. Rather
than hold the player in place, they are simply giving them a
much larger area to roam in.
This company puts players into a large warehouse
space, and has created a custom game to be played with
VR headsets and gun controllers. Patrons can play six
player co-op to fight off zombie hordes with completely
Giving players open space to move around in adds greatly
to the immersion, but creates some safety concerns. The
company claims they have in-game safety features that will
keep you from walking into walls, and offer an hour of time
in the game for $88 per person.
However, this experience only exists in one place
(Melbourne, Australia), and there is only one experience
to be had. It’s hard to fault them for either of these issues
though, as the technology is so new, and their solution to
some of the problems I’ve considered is quite novel.
While other companies are trying to make these
experiences smaller and more compact, Zero Latency
have recognized one of the big advantages of the VR
experience is its size. Rather than hold people back,
they’ve given them more space to roam. It will be
interesting to see if they can expand to other locations,
Figure 6. A player experiences the game Skyrim through the
use of the Virtuix Omni.
3-D printed prosthetic hands can be
downloaded online for free, 3-D printed
in 20 hours, and assembled in 2-4 hours,
costing as little as $20.