The advances in virtual reality technology, although groundbreaking, have yet to break a very important barrier: full immersion. This is where the user transforms from an observer to a participant. The HTC Vive, for example, is arguably the most sophisticated VR systems ever sold but can you call it full-immersion? More like unparalleled immersion.
Make no mistake, HTV Vive is an incredible machine: the user has a 360 panoramic view inside the game’s world and the wireless controllers allow you to interact with objects (stand up, walk around, duck, or lunge). However, in order to interact with any object, the user has to squeeze a trigger. This lets you pick up, drop, and knock over objects in your virtual world. With a rather bulky VR headset that a recent Gizmodo article calls, “heavier than a bike helmet,” you can see why this can’t really be called full-immersion.
The HTC Vive has mastered the auditory and visual experience beautifully. But it has yet to introduce the sense of touch into its virtual world. A group of sensory architects from the London’s Royal College of Art has created Skinterface. According to a Quartz article by Hannah Yi, it’s a high-tech suit that lets you feel things in virtual reality. The technology, “relies on the vibration of sound waves, which emanate from tiny nodes that are all across the skin suit.” In other words, the skin suit triggers sensations in your skin giving its user the full immersion experience.
Featured in a video posted on Futurism, Skinterface is described as “skin beyond skin – a passport to alternative realities that enable full immersion into the virtual world.” The technology, judging from the reactions of its prototype users, is quite realistic. Armed with a 3D camera that can track the movements of the color-coded suit, Skinterface is designed for two-way interactions between people. Currently, in its development stage, Skinterface sensory architects are describing the technology as a way to “convert virtual interaction into a physical feeling.”
Skinterface’s website describes the limitations of a headset: “A virtual reality headset, though more sophisticated than a TV, still fails to break down the conceptual barrier between the wearer and the virtual world.” So what separates Skinterface’s virtual reality technology from HTC Vive’s? For one, Skinterface’s bodysuit is covered in nodes that are strategically positioned to react with the wearer’s skin. Since each moving magnet node is independent and has several modes of operation, according to Skinterface’s website, “their movements can be controlled allowing for acute control of touch intensity, form, temperature, and sensation.”
The transition from unparalleled immersion to full immersion won’t happen overnight. The HTC Vive, without question, has broken some major grounds in virtual reality gaming, especially with its mastery over audio and visual sensory. Just imagine the possibilities of integrating Skinterface’s high-tech suit technology with HTC Vive’s 360-degree virtual gaming world. Mind-blowing.