The feature we’ve all been waiting for
Once we got video games looking realistic in VR, the natural next step was to try and get them to start feeling realistic too. Enter mouth haptics, a project helmed by researchers Vivian Shen, Craig Shultz, and Chris Harrison at the Robotics Institute of Carnegie Mellon University. In short, the team created a mouth haptics prototype that connects directly to a VR headset so that users don’t need to wear an extra peripheral.
So how exactly does it work? Well, the team mounted a “thin, compact, beam-forming array of ultrasonic transducers which focuses acoustic energy onto the mouth” on a Quest 2 VR headset. Basically, they’re using vibrations through the air to make you feel it on your lips, teeth, and tongue with pulses, swipes, and persistent vibrations.
The study had players go through three different simulated scenarios to test out the new tech. The first was a fantasy scene where players walked through a forest infested with spiders, where they felt both webs and, you guessed it, spiders touching their mouths. If that’s not the ultimate gamer fantasy, I don’t know what is.
The next scenario was a school simulation, where playtesters could engage in more pleasant activities like drinking from a water fountain, having a cup of coffee, or brushing their teeth. The third and final simulation is a motorcycle racing game, because everyone knows the best way to experience the thrill of riding a motorcycle is to… feel the wind on your lips? Okay, I know it’s a bit silly, but they’re just looking for creative ways to test out the different types of mouth haptics sensations the prototype can provide.
“Why the mouth?” you might ask — I know I certainly did. According to research, the mouth is second only to the fingertips in terms of which body part is sensitive to haptic feedback for VR, so it was the next body part to target for implementing this feature.
The mouth also makes sense as the next area of immersion to target because they can add it right onto the underside of the headset, keeping the scale of the project smaller for now. I can imagine in the future that they’d be able to implement the fundamentals of this smaller project on a larger scale.
Then there’s the question on everybody’s mind: when can I use this to kiss video game characters? Hubba hubba, I gotta kiss those sweet sweet pixelated hotties. Settle down kids, we’re not quite there yet. While none of the demos have to do with kissing, it’s only a matter of time before it’s used for exactly that purpose. It’s gotta be players’ number-one request when it comes to mouth haptics for VR, I just know it — mostly because I’m included in that group.