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Push and it pushes back. This robot makes VR environments feel real

Using haptic technology as part of VR is still in its infancy, but researcher Scott Devine has a solution that diverges from traditional haptic feedback devices. He’s using a $25,000 industrial robot, together with an HTC Vive virtual reality setup, to help replicate situations IRL (in real life) that are encountered in the virtual world.

For example, when Devine encounters a wooden box in the VR simulation, the Baxter robot moves its arms to just the right position, and then offers the correct amount of resistance a person would get from pushing a real box around. The result? A far more lifelike, immersive experience.

“The system is an ‘encounter haptic system’,” Devine, a second year PhD candidate at Queen’s University Belfast in the EPIC (Energy Power and Intelligent Control) research cluster, tells Digital Trends. “Encounter haptics is where you are not attached to [a haptic device], but the device follows your hand — ideally staying a few millimeters in front of your hand, waiting for collisions to occur in the VR environment [and then] provides you with a sensation or, in this case, force.”

The setup Devine has created is only a proof-of-concept, not least because the hefty price tag for replicating this setup would prove far too expensive for most people. However, it doesn’t have to always stay that way.

“It’s definitely not for consumers [due to] the price of the robot, but I wouldn’t say it’s just an interesting experiment [with no real application],” Devine continues. “We’re showing what’s possible. It might give some people with more resources a few ideas. Imagine a robotic arm attached to the ceiling in each of the four corners of your VR room: you’d have force feedback for 360 degrees. It’s probably not practical or cheap, and people will probably say [it’s therefore not feasible], but I think you have to dream big. Why not?”

Hey, if researchers like Scott Devine can take us one step closer to the dream of a Star Trek-style holodeck, we’re all for it!

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Luke Dormehl
I'm a UK-based tech writer covering Cool Tech at Digital Trends. I've also written for Fast Company, Wired, the Guardian…
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