Impacto armband delivers 'punches' for extra VR realism

Virtual reality is the next big thing, and anyone who has played with the technology knows that, depending on the quality, it can be easy to momentarily forget you're not really riding a rollercoaster or zipping through outer space. That wonderful feeling of suspended disbelief fizzles away, though, when certain senses aren't engaged in the way we would expect. Taking being punched, for example.

If you're playing a VR boxing game, you're seeing the punches thrown at you, but you're not feeling them. That throws the gamer's perception of the experience off, as one expected aspect of the virtual interaction — being hit — is absent. Enter Impacto, an armband currently in the prototype stage that uses electrical stimulation and a solenoid to generate the sensation of being punched.

A pair of electrodes are placed on one's bicep, in the demonstration video above, which cause the muscle to retract when the "punch" is delivered, thrusting the arm backwards. The combination of the two provides realistic — though not painful — sensations that match whatever is going on in the VR game, amping up the realism.

The armband is the work of researchers with Hasso Plattner Institute in Germany's Human-Computer Interaction lab. Said the lab's lead Patrick Baudisch, "It's kind of an illusion. We want the user wearing a VR headset to believe that he was really hit by something." The technology isn't limited to just punching, though; similar devices can be used on the foot/leg for soccer and football games, for example.

SOURCE: MIT Technology Review