There are so many different ways that researchers around the world are working on to make VR more immersive. From haptic gloves to a speaker that pumps bass straight into your chest cavity, it seems that anything is game to supplement the audio-visual VR experience.
It’s not unique to VR either, from force-feedback joysticks to haptic arcade systems, we’ve had many ways to feel what’s going on in the digital world. The question is, how far do we want to go? It’s one thing to feel a bump to represent a hit or bullet, but what level of realism is desirable?
That’s now a really pertinent question as the TEGWAY ThermoReal is announced. This device can simulate heat, cold and a low level of pain. The technology to achieve this on a commercial level.
Hurt Me Plenty
The device that’s been show to the public uses a flexible thermoelectric system to either heat or chill it’s surface with precision and almost no delay. This means that when the VR or AR experience has a heat or cold source the TEGWAY can instantly create the feeling of heat or cold to enhance the experience. By cleverly using this ability it’s also possible to induce pain on the skin. Reportedly up to the intensity of a pinch.
While they haven’t actually shown this yet, as the above illustration from the company indicates, the idea is to integrate the technology into existing systems we already use. Think about video game controllers and haptic systems that strap to various parts of the body.
Full-body haptic systems already exist and presumably the idea would be to introduce flexible thermoelectric technology to those systems as well eventually.
A Good Start?
It’s understandable that we want to make our VR systems as realistic as possible and not everyone has the same desire to only have pleasant experiences as part of their entertainment or fantasies. After all, people play airsoft or paintball, take part in sports activities that involve pain and the possibility of injury.
The difference here is that those are risks we have to accept as part of the activity. In this case those risks are added on purpose. While the end result may be similar, that aspect changes the equation somewhat. Time will tell whether the market and society in general finds the idea of pain inducement acceptable.
Right now a pinch may be tame enough, but as human nature has demonstrated in the past, there will always be those that push the limit between simulation and actual harm.