Electric Shocks Can Help VR Users Feel Objects

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Electric Shocks Can Help VR Users Feel Objects
April 19, 2017

A new Virtual Reality System that simulates walls by shocking the users' muscles has been developed by researchers. 

 

The system uses electrical muscle stimulation to recreate the sensation of encountering a wall. 

 

The technology, which has been used for physical therapy and exercise stimulation, uses electrodes placed on the users' arms, giving them a small electrical shock to make them feel like they're touching a wall. 

The technology, which has been used for physical therapy and exercise stimulation, uses electrodes placed on the users' arms, giving them a small electrical shock to make them feel like they're touching a wall

 

The system, developed by researchers from the Hasso-Plattner Institute in Potsdam, Germany, was unveiled at the 2017 Conference on Human Factors in Computing (CHI) conference in Denver, Colorado. 

 

The researchers had participants wear an Electrical Muscle Stimulation (EMS) system which was installed in a backpack. 

 

The EMS system is controlled by a VR simulator which works with Samsung GearVR - with trackers attached to the hands and a movement capture system.  

The authors of the research paper wrote: 'We achieve this with an EMS pulse of still reasonably low intensity, which, like all other EMS signals in our system, is pain free at all times. 

 

It works with eight pairs of electrodes: actuating the participants' biceps, wrists, triceps and shoulders. 

 

These electrodes deliver a mild electrical shock when they touch an object in virtual reality. 

 

This causes tension in the muscles, and also works in the same way if the user is lifting an object in VR. 

The EMS system is controlled by a VR simulator which works with Samsung GearVR - with trackers attached to the hands and a movement capture system
The researchers had participants wear an Electrical Muscle Stimulation (EMS) system which was installed in a backpack

 

For the research, participants were asked to 'touch' virtual walls and rate the experience.

 

The researchers developed two different types of simulation. 

 

One involves cutting off the intensity of the EMS at a certain limit, letting the user penetrate objects in VR by about 10 centimeters (4 inches) to similar soft objects such as foam. 

The researchers used eight pairs of electrodes: actuating the participants' wrists (a), biceps (b), triceps (c) and shoulders (d) 
The researchers developed two different types of simulation. One involves cutting off the intensity of the EMS at a certain limit, letting the user penetrate objects in VR by about 10 centimeters (4 inches) to similar soft objects such as foam. The second type uses pulses of EMS which propel the user's hand backwards - completely preventing them from pushing through a virtual object

 

The second type uses pulses of EMS which propel the user's hand backwards - completely preventing them from pushing through a virtual object. 

 

In future, the researchers hope to apply this approach to augmented reality. 

 

'Since our approach leaves the user’s fingertips free to touch physical objects and physical walls, our technology should be a good match for AR,' the researchers wrote in their study. 

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