From robotic virtual reality (VR) boots that allow players to walk without actually moving forward to the highly controversial NerveGear 2.0—a VR headset prototype that kills users if they die in a game—it’s safe to say that there have been countless tricks and gadgets released in recent years, all with the aim of making the simulated experience feel, well, less simulated.
In yet another attempt at improving just how real VR and augmented reality (AR) feel to users, Martin Feick at Saarland University in Germany and his colleagues have created HapictPuppet, a drone that uses ropes attached to a player’s fingers, wrists, or ankles to puppeteer them, in turn giving the purely virtual objects and environment a ‘physical’ tangible form.
Take pressing a button mid-air, for example—since AR allows users to still see the real world, researchers behind the new technology recommended designers opt for transparent polyamide thread in this specific situation.
VR or AR put aside, in both instances, as a user would be asked to press the button mid-air, the rope attached between their index finger and a small drone would be lifted in opposition to their movement—so lifting upwards as they press down on their virtual button—creating the illusion that they actually pushed down on something real since they felt some kind of resistance.
The same idea of fooling a user’s nerves into perceiving weight can pretty much be applied to any kind of movement they might be required to do while using a VR headset. Let’s say a player has to kick a ball, for example—using this puppeteer drone, they would feel the impact as their foot gets pulled in the opposite direction of where they hit the imaginary object.
Apart from its deployment in AR and VR, the HapticPuppet could also be a game-changer when it comes to rehabilitation and exercising as it would enable users to perform physical workouts with static or dynamically changing resistances. Compared to your standard resistance rehabilitation bands, in this case, only one device would be required—enabling a wide range of potential exercises that can be performed.
“Moreover, the airflow caused by the drones’ propellers, which is usually seen as one of the major drawbacks, may be utilised for active cooling of the person while exercising. This opens up an interesting design space that hopefully inspires future use cases,” the team of researchers explained in a summary of their study. When life gives you lemons, make lemonade, heh?
As noted in the study, precise positioning of the drones in a 3D space remains the key challenge for the current implementation of the technology. Imagine having to coordinate multiple drones simultaneously in a fairly small space, as well as the noise they make, and the fact that they could be potentially harmful to users.
To solve the latter, researchers explained that they “either want to use cages for the drones or even switch to blade-free drones in the future.” Considering the time when Enrique Iglesias cut his hand on a drone during a 2015 concert in Tijuana, it’s safe to say we expect Feick and his team to solve this minor problem any way they can.
Introducing ‘mutalk’, a new VR device created by Tokyo-based company Shiftall which acts as a mouth muzzle microphone that can capture sound directly from your mouth without the interference of background noise.
According to Shiftall’s website for the odd-looking technology, “the mutalk is a Bluetooth microphone with a mute function that prevents your voice from leaking out.” In other words, the device is designed to allow users in the metaverse to produce a lot of noise without fearing disturbing those around them.
The company goes on to state that the contemporary ‘pear of anguish’ comes with a detachable strap and can also be used for business purposes, such as conference calls. How lovely, a multipurpose netizen’s dream.
Although the main idea behind the mutalk is sound (no pun intended), many have been quick to point out the device’s creepy design and bizarre advertising pictures. Science and tech news publication Futurism described its publicity as “doctored stock images muzzling unsuspecting models with a white VR headset-shaped appendage covering their mouths.”
The article went on to stress how the “sensory deprivation” mouth-piece appears to look like an intense mediaeval gearpiece more likely to be worn in a traumatising interrogation or BDSM dungeon than in a VR enthusiast’s living room.
It should also be noted that Shiftall is owned by tech-giant Panasonic and boasts an impressive catalogue of unique virtual reality products. One of the most, shall we say, special designs is a smart mirror that comes with an equally helpful and daunting ‘benefit’—the ability to spot (and shame) an outfit-repeater.
NeSSA (Never Same Shirt Again) may well be your best friend or your biggest nightmare. The mirror digitally connects to the user’s calendar and, using a smart algorithm, infers from the names of attendees and events whether or not the (un)lucky owner’s current outfit has already been worn in front of the specific person they’re about to meet. If that’s the case, the mirror will automatically activate an inbuilt light feature and “warn” the user.
Thankfully, there are no current plans to collaborate with Amazon’s Alexa—a voice-activated response may be too painful.
Other Shiftall products include: HaritoraX 1.1, a space-saving wireless full-body tracking device and Pebble Feel, a VR experience and technology that allows you to customise and feel temperature preferences within the metaverse.
Virtual reality has continued to develop at great speed over the past few years. In 2020, robotic VR boots that allowed users to walk without actually moving forward made waves as a groundbreaking immersive experience. This technological feat, however, is now considered by many as child’s play in comparison to new products such as mutalk.
It’s both exciting and slightly terrifying to consider what the virtual future will hold.