Ever wanted the feelings of spiders in and around your mouth on demand, whenever you want? Well you're in luck, you wonderful weirdo, because VR is coming to the rescue.
New haptics are always being worked into VR, and according to IFLScience (opens in new tab), a group of scientists from Carnegie Mellon University's Future Interfaces Group (opens in new tab) are truly going above and beyond. The team has fitted an Oculus Quest 2 (opens in new tab) with ultrasonic transducers, which can generate ultrasonic energy. For some reason, they've pointed this straight at the mouth to add unique sensations to the VR experience.
The energy directed onto your mouth creates sensations that can be pulsations, or swiping motions across the lips, or ongoing vibrations, all at different speeds and intensities. It's said that these can approximate real feelings like wind, or perhaps, yes, even spiders.
I keep coming back to the spiders because that's one of the demos depicted in the above video. It shows someone walking through a haunted forest with spiderwebs and how the swiping motion is used by the ultrasonic transducers to mimic the feel of web brushing across your face. Then a spider jumps onto the player and more haptics are engaged so you can really feel all eight of those legs trying to enter your unwilling mouth.
Best VR headset (opens in new tab): which kit should you choose?
Best graphics card (opens in new tab): you need serious GPU power for VR
Best gaming laptop (opens in new tab): don't get tied to your desktop in VR
Calmer, less completely insane iterations involved simulating a water fountain against the users' lips, or the feeling of drinking a coffee. It does seems like there could be plenty of uses for this new kind of mouth focussed haptic feedback.
It would be even more interesting to see if this tech could be integrated with other recently tested haptics. Researchers are working on chemical haptics for sensations like cold and heat (opens in new tab), which could potentially up the effectiveness of those drink simulations. There's also speculation about virtual kissing booths, but I think I'll stick to spiders for now.
The team behind the ultrasonic transducers conducted surveys after people experienced the new sensations. Generally speaking the immersion was boosted by having these new mouth-feels introduced to VR. Given they can be attached to any headset, these might actually make their way to the general public, though we don't expect to see them any time soon.