Virtual and augmented reality (VR/AR) are making grand leaps in immersion and realism experiences, from Japanese VR-piloted railroad workers to joining the metaverse, the potential for this technology is astronomical. Now, researchers want to make the personal experience that much richer by introducing the mouth as a new haptic target.
After fingertips, the mouth is second in terms of tactile sensitivity, which allows the fine-grained haptics to work effectively.
Scientists from Carnegie Mellon University’s Future Interfaces Group adapted an Oculus Quest 2 VR headset (although it is stipulated that this method can be used on other VR headsets) with ultrasonic transducers, which means the components are integrated into the headset so that the user does not need any further additional accessories or additional infrastructures.
The ultrasonic transducer then focuses acoustic energy onto the mouth, simulating different sensations. Pulsations can be caused by single impulse, impulse trains, swipes in the x,y, and z directions, and persistent vibrations. These can mimic different sensations like the wind, brushing teeth, or potentially kissing sensations.
This is not the first time that ultrasonic transducers have been used in exciting gadgets, we have seen them before in inventions similar to the sonic screwdrivers and levitation gauntlets.
The team conducted various sensory demos on the users, such as a haunted forest, school simulator, and a racing game.
In particular, the haunted forest simulation is not for the arachnophobes out there! In this demo, the users had to trek through spooky woods, pushing their way through spider webs, and this sensation was felt on their mouths (from the x-swipe). This was followed by the user heading into a clearing where a spider jumps onto the player’s mouth (simulation from random impulses). Then the user must shoot a flare gun at the spider, causing the spider to explode and the player to feel the resulting goo splash (simulated by random impulses on the mouth at a higher frequency).
Finally, if you are not freaked out enough, the players have to fight a large boss spider that is dripping in venom. This proceeds to rain onto the user which can be felt by a random y-swipe sensation on the mouth.
In the survey results, they found that the mouth haptics boosted immersion realism and other important factors in virtual reality experiences.
Due to the nature of the research and keeping everything PG, the scientists did avoid mentioning any kissing possibilities. But if this technique becomes more popular, then this can be used in potential VR kissing booths. If people go down this route, this may help many lonely hearts around the world experience love and affection on demand.