The creative team here at Elara takes pride in their ability to craft engaging content across a variety of different mediums. We are committed to helping our partners create the perfect digital content to meet their needs, and an integral part of that process is staying on top of current tech. What solutions are Virtual Reality and haptic devices trying to offer? How can Elara utilize these solutions to meet the needs of our own partner’s digital content? To answer these questions, we must look to the future and project where this technology is ultimately headed.
How Far Are We From Full Immersion Virtual Reality?
Immersion. Chances are, you’ve heard that word tossed around before. Its one of those terms that’s used rather broadly, as the action that immersion describes pervades a large portion of our activities with technology. Most people have some understanding of its definition, but how does someone create that? And how will future tech try to achieve ‘full immersion’?
Immersion is, on surface level, the act of fully submerging something within another. Therefor when something is described as immersive, it speaks to its ability to pull or draw someone in. Books are a classic example of immersion at work. Their ability to captivate us inside of a narrative, to make us visualize and feel for the content within, is the very same ‘submerging within’ described by immersion. As technology progressed, so too did our ability to pull audiences in. Take movies for instance, having erected entire theatres dedicated to dimming the world around and allowing the audience to focus on the film presented. Suddenly, the phrase ‘immersive sound systems’ makes a little more sense; it’s all about transporting you somewhere else in an effort to make you ‘connect’ with the content being presented.
Of course, in no way were books or movie theatres initially designed with the intent to immerse their users. While the inherent qualities of immersion are present within their usage, they are mere afterthoughts of a much larger impression. The narrative in a book can be incredibly gripping, but it does not aim to mute or replace your senses. A theatre may offer everything you need to become engrossed in a movie, yet the viewer is still just an onlooker. Amongst the many technological improvements rampant in the digital age, we began to describe our virtual media as ‘immersive’. Video games are a prime example of this type of digital content, but how exactly do they keep their players absorbed within their games?
Interactivity, and responsiveness. These two tools helped elevate video games to a whole new level of immersion. In this medium, our audience shifts from ‘viewers’ to ‘players’ as they are given the ability to interact with the virtual environment presented to them. The narratives presented can often feel alive, and demand that the player interact with the virtual world around them in order to progress. Video games have taken the concept of immersion so far that their player base has a term for being pulled out of their game’s world. ‘Ruined’ immersion happens when the user witnesses something jarring, unexpected, or unrealistic within the game, especially when their own interaction with the medium is taken away from them. In other words, our technology has gotten so good at allowing us to explore virtual mediums, we have a term for when this status-quo is broken. Gaming set a precedent for what ‘immersive experiences’ should be, and that bar will keep rising as technology continues to advance.
Virtual Reality seems set on being the next step in immersive media. Its ability to isolate the viewer from their surroundings and ‘transport’ them into a three-dimensional world, complete with hand tracking, speaks to how far we’ve taken immersion. At the cusp of it all, we have to ask ourselves one simple question: Where do we take immersion from here?
Full immersion, to be completely transported to a virtual place that feels indistinguishable from reality, is something straight out of science fiction novels. But before we even consider plugging in our brains to a computer simulated reality, let’s focus on what’s actually practical. The goal of all of this is to give our interactions with the virtual world merit within the rest of our lives. Imagine the breakthrough that would come about from a simulated surgery, free of the costs and ramifications of an actual operation. In its current, experimental state, VR aims to simulate a level of interactivity and responsiveness that holds merit to its real-world counterpart. The tech industry is asking itself how to include a variety of different sensory and haptic feedback into virtual reality. While VR can effectively emulate sight and hearing, it’s still trying to figure out touch. To many, the concept of a virtual rock feeling heavy in your hand, or the sensation of running your fingers through virtual grass, is something straight out of science fiction. It feels like it should be impossible, and yet… Here we are. This technology is here, right now. While it’s far from being an all-encompassing commercial success, it’s important to keep in mind just how fast the tech industry continues to innovate. Over the past half a century, machinery has become lighter, smarter, and faster. The technology we find ‘far off’ today might be on the horizon tomorrow.
When it comes down to it, we interact with the world through our five senses. Touch, sight, hearing, taste, and smell. Virtual Reality already offers realistic solutions to both sight and hearing, and tech companies have set their minds to creating the next generation of haptic technology. Several haptic-oriented devices already exist, offering users a chance to interact with virtual mediums in a variety of different ways. OpenHaptics, pictured above, allows the user to operate a haptic-oriented stylus. The tool will stop in mid-air when it presses against a solid surface in the virtual world, as well as simulate a variety of different sensations. Friction, elasticity, pressure, and attraction are all used to great effect within OpenHaptics, opening up a variety of new ways to create immersive experiences. Stylus-oriented exploration of virtual environments is a wonderful approach for hand-tool operated simulations, and allows creative studios like Elara to begin crafting hands-on educational VR training.
Defining how to incorporate physical interaction within Virtual Reality appears to be the next big step for the VR industry. While a fully-immersive VR experience seems incredibly impractical with today’s tech, the progress the industry has made towards that goal is surprisingly revealing. Haptic devices have already pushed the boundaries of what we consider possible, and the tools we need to begin interacting with the virtual world in a physical way are here. With so much emergent technology on our doorstep, it is up to creative studios like us to develop meaningful and engaging use cases for haptic technology. Elara is currently working alongside industry leaders to help create state-of-the-art interactive VR experiences in an effort to bring the future of haptics to medical and industrial professionals alike.