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Carnegie Mellon University Strives to Combine Touch with VR Usability

In recent times, virtual reality has become able to create remarkable immersive visual experiences. Despite the incredible progress in the field, the user experience has remained obtrusive to some extent. This is primarily because research in haptic, the domain of interaction between physical and virtual forms, has remained largely untapped. While many researchers have come forward to bridge the gap, Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) has taken a giant leap in this field.

In their latest attempt, the CMU researchers have taken up the challenge to simulate touch in virtual reality. For this purpose, they aim to develop a device that will combine both visual and tactile sensations. The device will reportedly use multiple strings that will be attached to the hand and fingers of the user and they will subsequently simulate the feel of the objects and obstacles. For instance, by locking the strings as the user’s hand approaches a virtual wall within the simulation, the device will simulate a feeling as if the user is touching the wall. The research team explained that the string mechanism involved in the device allows people to feel the outlines of a virtual object and sense a resistance when they approach it. It can even enable users to give a high five virtually within the simulated reality. Chris Harrison, assistant professor of Human-Computer Interaction Institute at CMU told that elements such as furniture, walls, and virtual characters are the core items of developing immersive VR environments. With the new haptic technique, he remarked, things will be more interesting and engaging.


The shoulder-mount design of the device seemingly leverages the advantage of the spring-loaded strings to reduce the weight, consume minimum power, and maintain lesser cost. The device weighs less than 10ounces and would cost only $50 when available in a mass-produced form.

Carnegie Mellon University Strives to Combine Touch with VR Usability

The spring-loaded strings, compared to other haptic devices that use string-based designs, are an effort to divert from the conventional motor-control technique. With this approach, the CMU researchers are trying to develop a technology that is more affordable and unobtrusive.

The refuge

With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, virtual reality has quite become the refuge for those confined in homes during the lockdown period. Some initiatives involving VR technology have proved to be major successes in this regard. Particularly, the VR gig put together by the city of Helsinki. More than half a million virtual audience attended the event. However, a conflict has surfaced concerning the increasing use of VR as an alternative for physical experiences. Kevin Ross, a columnist for New York Times has expressed his notion stating that the future of realistic digital experience is going to be built on less attractive technology that is already in use. On the other hand, some are taking a more optimistic approach. Renowned Forbes writer Joe Parlock commented that the comparisons are not feasible when it comes to the limitations of VR.

This analysis becomes rather interesting about CMU’s haptic research, for it maintains and also enhances VR usability that has long been a major goal for the wearable VR industry. Achieving the goal will clearly put CMU in the winning position.


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