Simple foot-buzzing tech simulates the feel of walking in VR worlds
Although there are rigs that allow gamers to walk on the spot while their avatar walks in a VR environment, such setups tend to be large and complex. A new system, however, simulates walking simply by buzzing the seated user's feet.
The experimental setup is being developed by scientists from Japan's Toyohashi University of Technology, and the University of Tokyo. Its users wear a VR headset and noise-cancelling headphones, plus they sit on a stool and place each of their feet on a separate spring-mounted, aluminum-framed platform.
Each of those platforms contains two "vibro-transducers" – one below the ball of the foot, and one below the heel. As the user's avatar walks in the VR world, the transducers vibrate accordingly, simulating the sensation of the heel and ball of the foot sequentially contacting the ground with each stride.
The springs keep the vibrations limited to the foot platforms, while the headphones keep the user from hearing the sound of the transducers. If they did hear those noises, it might ruin the "illusion" of walking. That said, they do hear the sounds of their avatar's footsteps as it walks.
The walking simulation was found to be most convincing when test subjects viewed the VR environment from a first-person perspective. In this configuration, they could see their avatar's hands and feet when they looked down at them, plus they could see a reflection of its whole body in virtual full-length mirrors which it walked toward.
The simulation was less convincing when users couldn't see the full-body reflections, or when they only viewed their avatar from a third-person perspective.
It is hoped that once developed further, the technology could be used not only in applications like gaming, but also as a means of allowing people such as wheelchair users to experience the sensation of walking.
"We believe that low cost and miniaturization can be accomplished," says Toyohashi University's Asst. Prof. Yusuke Matsuda. "The proposed device consists of four vibro-transducers and amplifiers. The configuration is relatively simple, inexpensive – between $300 and $500 – and compact."
The research is described in a paper that was recently published in the journal Frontiers in Virtual Reality.