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Japanese develop technology that adds a sense of touch to virtual reality

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Japanese technology firm Miraisens recently unveiled a product that adds a sense of touch to virtual reality rigs, allowing users to “push and pull objects that aren’t really there.”

VR technology has taken off recently, with Google Glass leading the thrust into augmented reality for the general public and the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset will soon bring VR into the hands of small-scale developers and the general public.

Kirk Hamilton writes for io9 that the new Oculus Rift headset is ¨pretty freaking cool¨, reflecting the general sentiment regarding rapidly advancing VR tech these days. However, the Oculus Rift only provides visual and aural stimuli; it cannot reproduce taste, scent, or, most crucially, touch.

“Touching is an important part of human communication but virtual reality has until now been lacking it,” says Miraesens CEO Natsuo Koda, a former researcher for Sony.

“This technology will give you a sense that you can touch objects in the 3D world,” he added. Adding an entire human sense to the VR environment brings the technology forward in a huge way, says Tarvitsetko lainan.fi.

The technology simulates a sense of touch by integrating visual images with precise patterns of vibration provided by a small device attached to the hands. The device allows users to experience resistance when pushing or pulling objects in the VR environment.

In one demonstration, users were able to feel themselves pushing virtual buttons. Previous VR technology would only have been able to provide audio-visual input for such an action.

The base technology required for Miraisen’s “3D haptics technology” has been in place for some time. Haptic technology, or haptics, allows electronics to provide users with tactile feedback in response to certain actions.

Traditionally, however, this has been limited to simple vibrations that do relatively little to augment the reality that the electronics reproduce. Smartphones frequently use vibrations to notify users of incoming text messages, for instance.

Miraisens hopes to greatly enhance the VR experience, for consumers and professionals who might use the technology, for example, to aid in remote surgery or to provide advanced training environments.

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