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Versions is the essential guide to virtual reality and beyond. It investigates the rapidly deteriorating boundary between the real world and the one behind the screen. Versions launched in 2016 at the eponymous conference dedicated to creativity and VR with the New Museum’s incubator NEW INC.

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The next step in VR? Feeling virtual objects without gloves

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The next step in VR? Feeling virtual objects without gloves

The Oculus Rift is a wonder. With a wildly successful Kickstarter campaign, and a Facebook acquisition, Oculus has been primed from its start to be one of the leading companies in virtual reality. But Oculus didn’t stall with merely a headset-clad VR endeavor. Now they want to make it possible for the player to feel things in VR, too. A haptic pleasure unheard of in the VR realm, the closest one’s gotten to it being Valve’s room-scaled, controller-embodied HTC Vive. With the HapticWave, a new project from Oculus and Facebook, physically touching things in VR just became a little more plausible.

“More perceptive and more believable of virtual objects”

HapticWave uses no gloves to give the player the illusion of touch within VR. Instead, the player rests their bare hand onto a circular metal plate and feels pulsing vibrations according to what’s going on in the virtual space. In an interview with MIT Technology Review, Oculus research scientist Ravish Mehra explained the technology, “Our hope around this project was being able to generate this extrasensory input so users can be more perceptive and more believable of virtual objects.” Like feeling the movements of another VR-dweller while sharing a virtual space. Or sensing when a creature is nearby via something as simple as footsteps. These are two particular examples implored by researchers, who believe the technology might be best suited for tabletop-inspired VR games.  

In HapticWave, the player isn’t physically grabbing objects, but they’re feeling them in an tangible way that hasn’t truly been implemented into VR. Oculus researchers crafted a number of demos—including one of a ball bouncing wherever the player directs it with a keyboard—coupling the HapticWave with carefully orchestrated spatial audio. With the joint experience of audio and physical touch, the player can feel physically more involved within the virtual environment than ever possible before. VR can feel like an actual livable space, rather than simply a 360-degree surface similar to our reality one.

The Oculus Touch controllers, which will be released in the latter half of 2016.
The Oculus Touch controllers, which will be released in the latter half of 2016.

HapticWave isn’t an officially licensed project that will come out to coincide with the Oculus—at least not yet. In the future, according to the MIT Technology Review, the Oculus team wants to experiment with altering the rounded plate, like making it larger and thinner to see how it affects the system’s core vibrations. Yet as of right now, the HapticWave is a work-in-progress, just an unofficial Oculus and Facebook project that tests the boundaries of VR.

Some of the HapticWave demos will be on display at the upcoming Siggraph Computer Graphics and Interactive Techniques Conference, to be held in Anaheim, California from July 24th to 28th.

Images: courtesy of Oculus.

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