If you get hit in a video game, you feel it in real life. At least, this is the effect promised by a new technology developed by the Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) lab at Germany’s Hasso Plattner Institute.
The device, called Impacto, has a vibration motor combined with electrodes encased in a light plastic box. Impacto delivers both stimulation to the muscle as well as pressure to the skin. It's attached to a band that can be worn on the arm, leg or foot.
“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,” said Pedro Lopes from the Hasso Plattner Institute, who developed the technology, in a paper describing Impacto. “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.”
The device is combined with a VR experience and the HCI ad hoc software, so it allows the wearer to feel objects and interactions in the virtual world. Impacto can produce a sensation of pushing and pulling, delivering a realistic experience. The team was also able to assemble multiple impacto units into a basic tactile suit. One example sees the users boxing someone in virtual reality, and feeling the punches as their arms are hit.
“The key idea that allows the small and light impacto device to simulate a strong hit is that it decomposes the stimulus,” added Lopes. “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.”
The device is a proof of concept designed to show a different approach to making the virtual feel real. By relying on muscle stimulation, it goes one step further than technologies that use pressure to simulate touch. Although effective, the device can only provide stimulation for a very short time (200 milliseconds or less), so can only mimic impulses rather than interactions.
As this is only early research, there's no news of commercial availability just yet. But for now, you can check out a video of Impacto in action below.