Drones on strings could soon be used to puppeteer VR players into feeling virtual objects

Drones on strings could soon be used to puppeteer VR players into feeling virtual objects

From robotic virtual reality (VR) boots that allow players to walk without actually moving forward to the highly controversial NerveGear 2.0 – a VR headset prototype that kill users if they die in a game— it’s safe to say that countless tricks and gadgets have been released in recent years, all with the goal of making the simulated experience feel, well, less simulated.

In another attempt to improve how real-life VR and augmented reality (AR) feel to users, Martin Feick at Saarland University in Germany and his colleagues created HapictPuppet, a drone that uses strings attached to a player’s fingers, wrists or ankles are attached to puppeteer them, in turn giving the purely virtual objects and environment a ‘physical’ tangible form.

Take for example the push of a button in the air, since AR allows users to still see the real world, researchers behind the new technology recommend designers opt for transparent polyamide thread in this particular situation.

VR or AR aside, in either case, as a user is asked to press the button in mid-air, the string attached between their index finger and a small drone will lift in opposition to their movement – so lift up as they press down on their virtual button—creating the illusion that they actually pressed something real as they felt some kind of resistance.

The same idea of ​​fooling a user’s nerves into perceiving weight can be applied to almost any kind of movement they might have to do while using a VR headset. For example, let’s say a player needs to kick a ball—with this puppeteer jingle, they’ll feel the impact as their foot is pulled in the opposite direction of where they hit the imaginary object.

Aside from its deployment in AR and VR, the HapticPuppet could also be a game changer when it comes to rehabilitation and exercise, as it will allow users to perform physical workouts with static or dynamically changing resistances. Compared to your standard resistance rehabilitation bands, in this case only one device will be required—allowing for a wide range of potential exercises that can be performed.

“Furthermore, the airflow caused by the drones’ propellers, which is usually considered one of the major disadvantages, can be used for active cooling of the person while exercising. This opens up an interesting design space that hopefully inspires future use cases,” the team of researchers explained in a summary of their study. When life gives you lemons, make lemonade, huh?

As noted in the study, the precise positioning of the drones in a 3D space remains the key challenge for the current implementation of the technology. Imagine having to coordinate several drones at once in a fairly small space, as well as the noise they make, and the fact that they can be potentially harmful to users.

To solve the latter, researchers explained that they “want to either use cages for the drones or even switch to bladeless drones in the future.” Considering the time Enrique Iglesias cut his hand on a drone during a 2015 concert in Tijuana, it’s safe to say we expect Feick and his team to solve this little problem in any way they can can.

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