The metaverse is developing at a rapid pace. Companies are trying to think of ways to fully immerse users in the virtual world. For example, there are many experiments with ways to send tangible incentives to users. The warm touch of a cup of coffee on your lips, the tickle of a spider crawling across your face… It could soon be possible in the metaverse.
With the metaverse, entrepreneurs and developers see many opportunities to develop a whole new world. There are already plenty of ways to experiment with digital government services, digital real estate investments, and a new way to play.
There is no doubt that there are many possibilities in a digital world that expands for users as soon as the headphones are put on. But according to some, the early metaverse lacks additional sensory input. Simply putting on the glasses and imagining yourself in a new environment is not enough. Wouldn’t it be more exhilarating if you could feel the breeze as you move through the digital world? Wouldn’t games be a bit more impressive if you could also ‘feel’ the environment?
stimulation in the mouth
Future Interfaces Group went to work with those questions. The digital research group at Carnegie Mellon University in the US state of Pennsylvania looked for ways that could arouse sensory stimuli during their exploration of the metaverse.
To immerse users more deeply in digital experiences, the research group looks at the mouth. “Current VR systems available to consumers only provide limited haptic insights through vibrations in the controllers,” explains Future Interfaces Group. “It is an open challenge to find user-friendly ways that stimulate the sense of touch.” The mouth is so interesting, according to the researchers, because it is the second most sensitive part of the body after the fingertips.
Therefore, the research group developed a system of electrical converters that can be placed in VR headsets. These converters focus energy on and around the mouth, absorbing sensory input.
Slime from a spider or a cup of hot coffee
A concrete example of a test project is using the device in a horror game. Players must walk through a forest full of spider webs. Anyone who walks through that net also seems to get the weird feeling of a net getting stuck in your face. If a spider jumps on the player’s face, they will feel their legs tickling them from side to side. When players have to shoot a spider later in the game, the system triggers brief stimuli that create the illusion that the spider’s slime is splattering on the player’s face.
The app doesn’t just work for nasty and sinister horror games. The researchers also give the example of everyday actions that can be imitated thanks to the headphones. Drink a cup of coffee, brush your teeth, smoke a cigarette. Are you going to ride a motorcycle in the metaverse? So you can feel the wind on your face, when it starts to rain you can even feel the drops of water. All of these things can be amplified by focusing the vibrations at certain points in and around the mouth with the help of electrical transducers.
Will the metaverse soon stimulate our senses too? That’s still hard to say. The technology is still in its early stages and a lot of work still needs to be done to integrate it into the headset in an optimal and user-friendly way.
“The number of stimuli is still very limited compared to reality, which is a very high bar,” the researchers explain. “But the technology is very similar to the vibration functions already used by game controllers or smartphones, only with more possibilities for spatial expression. We believe that VR/AR (virtual and augmented reality, ed.) should continue to strive for more realism. More work will be needed to expand our developments.”