Researchers from the Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) lab at the Hasso Plattner Institute in Germany have developed technology that lets the user feel in virtual reality, rather than just see.
Impacto, as the tech is called, is currently in the prototype phase. It's integrated into a band you can wear on your arm, leg, or foot, and in combination with VR and custom software, simulates contact. This simulation is achieved via a haptic vibration engine and electrical muscle stimulation, which work together to create a close to real sense of pushing, pulling, hitting, bouncing a soccer ball, etc. -- so it's much more than what we see with vibrating controllers, for example.
"The key idea that allows the small and light Impacto device to simulate a strong hit is that it decomposes the stimulus: it renders the tactile aspect of being hit by tapping the skin using a solenoid; it adds impact to the hit by thrusting the user's arm backwards using electrical muscle stimulation," says team lead Pedro Lopes. "The device is self-contained, wireless, and small enough for wearable use, thus leaves the user unencumbered and able to walk around freely in a virtual environment. The device is of generic shape, allowing it to also be worn on legs, so as to enhance the experience of kicking, or merged into props, such as a baseball bat."
Currently, the HCI team is at work on expanding the technology by creating modules for the abdomen and shoulders. Impacto is a long way off from commercialization, but this seems to be a heck of a start.