May 12th, 2021—
When it comes to virtual reality, the challenge isn’t displaying convincing visuals — VR headset manufacturers have already figured that out. The real challenge is how to tickle our other senses, like smell, taste, and especially touch. To give people the ability to feel the fur of animals in VR, engineers have built this strange haptic device, called HairTouch, equipped with adjustable hair.
HairTouch, which is controlled by an Arduino Mega board, serves a very specific purpose: to let VR users feel hair or fibers of varying lengths. That is an absurdly narrow goal and this device definitely won’t ever make it to market, but that doesn’t make it any less interesting. If you’ve ever wanted to feel the difference between a virtual tabby cat and a virtual Maine Coon, this is the haptic feedback gadget that you’ve been looking for.
Using a series of servo motors, HairTouch adjusts the bristles of a brush. It can control how far those bristles protrude, which is also related to their rigidity. It also adjusts the angle of the bristles, so the user can differentiate the feel of a Pomeranian from a Collie. Those adjustments correspond to the VR object that the user is currently touching. The engineers designed HairTouch to attach to VR controllers, so, at least theoretically, it can work with existing VR systems.