4 ways touching virtual reality will change lives (for the better)

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The virtual reality revolution includes more than sight. With touch being brought into VR, here are 4 uses that will improve lives.

Virtual reality is more than gaming. From medicine to real-estate, new applications for this technology are emerging everything. It is no longer enough to dream of the day the Star Trek Holodeck becomes a reality, that day is already here! Now, entrepreneurs, innovators, and visionaries are looking beyond what we thought possible to dream up what’s next for this immersive medium. With the haptic wave just beginning, more innovation and energy is pouring into bringing touch into virtual reality; bringing with it a new dimension of possibilities.

1.     VR for everyone:

Virtual reality currently requires users to see. Because VR is designed with vision as the central sensory focus, people living with blindness (representing over 2% of the population) are excluded. With haptics, virtual environments are no longer exclusively visual. Users can interact with their surroundings using sound and touch. This not only provides a more inclusive environment, but also opens the doors for new, previously unexplored uses!

2.     Grasp rehabilitation:

The ability to grasp is central to most daily activities. For some people having undergone a stroke or other forms of neurological trauma, this seemingly simple movement becomes an overwhelming challenge. For this reason, grasping exercises are often used in physical rehabilitation. With the ability to touch in VR, all aspects of grasping exercises can be customized. Users will no longer need to face the difficultly of object weight when they touch objects in VR. Moreover, since vision and touch can be fully controlled, it is possible to encourage progress and improve motivation by tricking the brain in thinking it accurately reached an object when in reality it didn’t.

3.     Phantom pain management:

Phantom pain, one of the strangest human phenomena, occurs when an individual feels pain in part of their body that they no longer have. Imagine losing your hand, then feeling an agonizing cramp in that same hand. Until recently, there was nothing to could do to alleviate this pain. A few decades ago, legendary neuroscientist V.S. Ramashandran positioned a mirror to trick the brain into seeing the existing hand in the position of the lost hand. Through this, individuals were able to feel as though their hands could move and relax, finally feeling relief. This phenomenon can effectively be replicated in VR. It can also be made stronger and more convincing by adding the ability for individuals to actually touch their lost limb for the first time!

4.     Curbing global warming:

Global warming is undoubtedly the greatest threat currently faced by humanity. Fuelled by a global hunger for things, factories and transportation increasingly produce vast amounts of pollution. What if you could have things without having to produce, ship, or store them? With the ability to touch virtual reality, this is becoming a possibility. Indeed, touching is believing, and ability to touch virtual items blurs the line between real and digital. With the incoming breakthroughs in augmented reality, we could consider virtual objects with the same legitimacy as physical ones. Yes, it may seem hyperbolic to think VR could have a significant positive impact global warming, but VR is being built around big dreams, and there is no dream bigger than making the planet a better place!

These four uses of touch in VR are just a few of the endless possibilities offered by touching virtual reality. Sign up to receive the development kit and tell us how you want to change the world!

Additional Info

  • About the author: Simon leads user experience development at Tactai. He has a PhD in multisensory perception and loves sharing his passion for both science and the potential of VR to anyone who will listen. Drop him a line on Twitter at @rhymeswithsimon