Virtual reality headsets use your eyes and ears to make things seem real, but the future of VR is all about incorporating the other senses. Researchers at Stanford University have our hands and fingers covered. They have come up with a way for you to virtually feel virtual objects, with the help of a weird robot.
It’s called ShapeShift. It’s a robot that has a dense grid of “pins” on top, and a set of optional wheels on its bottom. A tracking marker syncs the location of the ShapeShift box to the location of your hands in a virtual reality world. So when you touch a virtual object, the pins extend and retract to form a representation of that object in the real world, thereby allowing you to feel it.
Pretty cool right? Sure, this won’t simulate the softer things, like petting a cat in VR, but it should be convincing enough for other kinds of object. Yes, folks. This is the first step toward being able to feel things in our own personal holodecks. You could imagine a room with walls that are made with this sort of mechanism, and it could be used to create unique terrain underfoot as well.
It will be interesting to see where this technology goes from here.