Getting the feeling out of Virtual Reality

Using a chair to recreate haptic sensations in a Virtual Reality experience. Credit: Disney Research

Virtual Reality is supposed to become more and more real to the point we won't be able to tell it is ... virtual.

The first hurdle to overcome was tricking our eyes. The availability of high resolution displays that can be seen at a few cm without spotting any pixel, along with the tremendous computation power of microprocessors makes now possible to do ... the trick.

Wearing an Oculus Rift, and even a cheaper Samsung Gear VR, can provide a real sense of immersion (a lot now depends on how well the content has been developed).

Tricking our eyes is just a first step. In real reality we are experiencing a mix of sensations provided by all our senses. Sight is surely the one we use most but in some situations hearing, touching, smelling, and getting the feel of acceleration can make a whole difference.

At Disney Research a team has been working on recreating the feel of acceleration, something that you really need if you want to experience a roller coaster emotion. Just seeing what you would be seeing does not even come close to the real experience that is made of sharp acceleration and deceleration on several axis.

They have developed a haptic language to describe acceleration and the feeling of touch. These sensations can then be "programmed" inside a 360° Virtual Reality Video and played back in synch with the clip.  Haptic devices, like a special chair, will then recreate the sensation to the viewer. Notice that haptic chairs have been in use for pilots' training, to let them feel the movement of the plane as they operate it on the simulator. The machinery involved is quite expensive and surely out of reach to anyone of us. At Disney they are working on much more affordable devices ...

The next decade will see several progresses in the VR experience, making it more and more real. In turns, this will open up new business opportunities beyond entertainment, in education, training, ecommerce as well as in other areas like virtual tourism.

Author - Roberto Saracco

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