Chemical haptics could bring tactile sensations like cold and heat to VR

Chemical haptics could bring tactile sensations like cold and heat to VR

Chemical haptics could bring tactile sensations like cold and heat to VR


The progress VR has made in recent years is a bit astounding. Home appliances are by no means uncommon, costing as much as a standard console. With devices like the Oculus Quest 2, you don’t even need a computer or cables to get VR immersion on demand.

But virtual reality is about big dreams. It’s not called virtual close to reality. VR aims to make experiences real in a way that no other medium has yet. New products are being released all the time, like VR treadmills and haptic body kits, to try and enhance the experience, but we haven’t been able to translate many nuances into the digital world.

However, a team at the University of Chicago (via New Scientist) has aptly crossed another practical hurdle. Jasmine Lu, Ziwei Liu, Jas Brooks, and Pedro Lopes are developing a new type of haptic feedback they call chemohaptics, and it sounds pretty cool. As well as warmth, tingling and numbness.

Lu’s website talks about a paper that is about to be released to the public. It shows two devices made by the team that deliver liquid stimulants to the wearer’s skin. They are soft silicone patches that stick to the skin and use tiny pumps to deliver chemicals to the wearer. One runs across the face above the bridge of the nose to deliver the chemical to the cheeks, while the other rests on the forearm.

The abstract explained that the team used different chemicals to deliver different sensations. Although my sensitive skin does have some concerns, five chemicals have been found to produce lasting results in safe doses. Sanshool provides tingling, lidocaine is used for numbness, cinnamaldehyde sounds great and causes tingling, while capsaicin and menthol provide warmth and coolness, respectively.

The team used chemical haptics to develop five different VR experiences that users found more immersive with the new technology than without them.

The use case for gaming is very exciting. Being able to simulate the weather in a game with hot and cold sensations does sound very immersive. Feeling the heat from a nearby explosion or numbness in an injured body part are also interesting concepts. Maybe in the near future we’ll all be buying chemistry packs for our VR machines to really feel the burn.

But that’s not what all these teams are working on. There is a device that increases the flexibility of electrical muscle stimulation. Another changes the way objects feel when touched, and a whole bunch of touch-related research. I’m excited to see what the future games of people like this look like on the case.

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Bart Thompson
Bart is's List Writer . He is from Houston, Texas, and is currently pursuing a bachelor's degree in creative writing, majoring in non-fiction writing. He likes to play The Elder Scrolls Online and learn everything about The Elder Scrolls series.