Outfitted with a 3-D tracker and motorized capsules, the CyberTouch Glove was a $15,000 mitt that vibrated as you handled virtual objects onscreen. That was way back in 2000. Today such haptic technology—vibrating actuators and electrical impulses that stimulate your skin receptors and nerve endings—has become both cheaper and increasingly advanced, allowing VR gamers to feel real-world discomfort.
“Any VR engineer aims to make the game indistinguishable from reality,” says Greg Burdea, a haptics researcher at Rutgers University. “By introducing sensorial overload—sound, sight, touch, even pain—you addict the user.” For these players, the more immersive the experience, the greater the thrill. Eventually such technology will evolve beyond your living room to aid in tasks like simulating surgical procedures or training soldiers.
Pain level: Gloveless snowball fight
Microfluidic actuators in the glove press into your skin to create the sensation of movement, texture, and weightiness, replicating the skittering of a spider or the sting of an ice shard. Magnetic sensors track your fingers with submillimeter precision.
Pain level: Scalding coffee spill
Wrap your controller in this paper-thin thermoelectric semiconductor and feel the burn. TEGway’s software will enable games to recognize when you’re plunging through thin ice or fending off dragon fire; an electric current cools or heats the surface of the ThermoReal between 40 and 104 degrees. For fatal hits, the device produces heat and cold simultaneously to create a yelp-inducing pinch.
Hardlight VR Suit
Pain level: Kick in the ribs
Hardlight’s nylon and plastic vest syncs up with more than 15 games, including Holopoint and Sairento VR. Motiontracking sensors detect your dodges while 16 vibration nodes deliver sensations ranging from a glancing buzz to a 5-volt gut-punch.
bHaptics Tactal VR Mask
Pain level: Sucker punch
This punishing mask sticks to the inside of your headset to simulate blows to the face. It’s embedded with seven vibrating haptic motors that quiver when, say, you get mauled by virtual zombies.
This article appears in the December issue. Subscribe now.