The device uses a series of ultrasonic modules called transducers that are attached to the bottom of the VR headset. The transducers help create tactile feedback, or a technology that creates sensory tactile sensations by sending ultrasound waves into the mouth. This creates a tactile sensation that allows the mouth to “feel” what you may encounter in the digital world, such as falling rain and water fountains.
“Ultrasonic waves have peaks and valleys, so we are able to tell the time so that when the peak of multiple waves hits the same spot on your face at the same time, you can feel it.” – Vivian Shen, PhD student in robotics at Carnegie Mellon University said The Daily Beast. “Enough pressure to actually dent your skin.”
Shen co-wrote the device article with Craig Shultz, a postdoctoral fellow at the Human-Computer Interaction Institute (HCII); and Chris Harrison, associate professor of HCII. The team was also set to recreate sensations such as the whipping of the wind while driving the car, the toothbrush brushing the teeth and – terrifyingly – spiders crawling up the mouth.
To achieve these results, scientists relied on the natural sensitivity of the human mouth. While there were already VR devices that attempted to recreate the tactile sensations in the mouth, they proved impractical – with one device using a small robotic arm to slide a rubber feather across the user’s mouth. Instead, the CMU team used ultrasound waves, which are high-frequency sound waves that can travel through the air and cause sensations upon contact with human skin.
The team created a set of 64 small ultrasonic transducers that focus waves on the user’s mouth, enhancing the sensory effects. It is not perfect. While this worked for creating oral-specific effects like brushing your teeth or drinking water, it didn’t work that well for sensations involving larger body parts like walking on cobwebs. However, it offers some of the most promising results in terms of tactile feedback on the user’s lips.
“The sound pressure is generated from all the transducers,” said Shen. “That’s why we need a range of transducers. Depending on the angle and position, they must be fired at different times so that the top of the wave hits the same place as next to it. It feels like a little vibrating knot in space. ”
In addition to gaming, Shen said there are many uses for this device, including training simulations for medical professions such as dentists and orthodontists. Conducting this type of training in VR may allow its users to perform trial procedures from anywhere in the world.
Unfortunately for lonely-hearted gamers, the technology isn’t sophisticated enough to create the feeling of kissing someone in VR. Shen said it is because the ultrasound feeling can only come from a very small knot. “You can’t make this giant ball of feelings,” she said. “Therefore, all our exemplary sensations are very small, like a spider on your face or things like wind and rain.”
So don’t expect to cuddle with zombies in The Walking Dead A VR game coming soon.