The physical aspect to a virtual reality experience is just as important as the visual element. Custom VR gaming seats, haptic accessories, and cable-free headset rigs are all a testament to this emphasis on a “virtually real” physical environment. A new rig called the Cable Robot Simulator brings this emphasis on the physical to motion simulators, and it’s making the VR experience even more realistic.
The cable-driven robot is a development from the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics. If you ever went to an arcade as a child, the robotic system might remind you of those design-your-own roller coaster simulation rides. The Cable Robot Simulator is designed to mimic the motion a player sees in a Virtual Reality headset, for example in racing games and flight simulations. Control algorithms and a completely programmable interface make the Simulator extremely versatile.
Carbon fiber tubes frame the robot’s cabin, which is attached to eight unsupported steel cables and winches. All together, the simulator facilitates a drive power of 348 kilowatts. The cabin can also accelerate at 1.5g along any programmable path within the simulator’s workspace. The cables can be reassembled in different configurations around the cabin to adapt for more specific workspace needs. In this most recent prototype, the workspace stands at 5 x 8 x 5 meters cubed, but the beauty of VR simulation allows for the sensation of much greater distances.
Very small movements in the Cable Robot Simulator paired with well-timed visuals in a VR headset trick the human brain into thinking there’s much more movement going on. It’s precisely this natural brain hack that scientists hope the Cable Robot Simulator will help elaborate. Professor Heinrich Bülthoff is the project lead on the Cable Robot Simulator, but he is also a long-time perception researcher.
“This simulator offers us entirely new possibilities for studying motion perception with possible applications in neurological research into balance disorders,” said Professor Bülthoff. The Cable Robot Simulator is just a prototype at this point, but in the near future its applications could range from arcade VR games to professional simulation training for pilots and even the military. Eventually, the Simulator could become an important clinical tool as researchers seek to better understand human perception and balance.