Project ‘impacto’ is Designed to Let People Really Feel Virtual Reality

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The lab of Human Computer Interaction at Germany’s Hasso Plattner Institute has developed impacto, a wearable, wireless device designed “to render the haptic sensation of hitting and being hit in virtual reality.”

Led by Professor Patrick Baudisch, the lab has crafted the device to simulate impact via both a solenoid that physically hits the area of the body “hit” in virtual reality and electrical muscle stimulation (EMS) that “adds impulse to the hit by thrusting the user’s arm backwards,” according to a project summary written by Baudisch and two students in his lab, Alexandra Ion and Pedro Lopes. In the summary’s language, the impacto “decomposes the stimulus,” rendering the tactile and impulse sensations separately and allowing the compact device to simulate relatively strong hits.

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The video embedded at the top of this page, posted by the lab, demonstrates the device being used in boxing, soccer and baseball simulations; the simulations themselves are running on a combination of “impacto for haptic feedback, an Oculus Rift for visuals and a Kinect for tracking.” In the boxing demo, the user feels an impact (via the solenoid) and reflexive impulse (via the EMS) on his arm when he blocks his virtual opponent’s attacks. The user’s attacks, meanwhile, register via a solenoid attached to his knuckles. The boxing demo also includes a kickboxing iteration, in which a third impacto registers impacts from kicks; the soccer demo depicts a similar scenario in which in impacto attached to the user’s foot simulates the physical sensations of kicking or juggling a ball.

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The baseball demonstration is a bit different: it shows the user with a solenoid-attached prop (standing in for the bat) and an EMS device attached to his arm. The “bat” registers the impact of the virtual ball, while the EMS’s impulse causes his arm to flex in response to impact.

The video further sums how exactly a “hit” travels from the virtual to the physical world. When Unity3D detects an impact, it sends a signal wirelessly to the relevant impacto module. All said and done, impact detection to impacto response occurs in approximately 50ms.

As shown in the video and on the project summary page, the impacto’s solenoid component comes in a variety of sizes and shapes to accommodate feet, knuckles, arms and props. Users attach the EMS device to the muscle whose contraction accompanies a solenoid-produced impact, e.g., the bicep when boxing.

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The tech represents a creative and fairly non-intrusive solution to registering impacts via a haptic wearable. With that in mind, it goes without saying that we look forward to seeing where the device, and the lab behind it, go from here.

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  • chaoko954

    I know where it’s going from there…. THE PORN INDUSTRY!
    Great application, but I don’t see people slapping patches all over their body every time they want to jump into vr. Seems like the time its going to take to get ready to put the headset on is getting longer and longer every day.
    “I want to play Call of duty VR, got to put my haptic sensors on, and my vest, and get my gun and controller, slap all these patches on so I can FEEL the bullets, put these special shows on, get in my VR bouncer so I can walk. ok NOW I can put my headset on…..”
    Hopefully they find a way to incorporate it into clothes or something.

  • bji

    Yeah this one seems pretty gimmicky to me. They’re going to electrically stimulate your muscles to jerk when you get ‘hit’? That seems kind of unpleasant and also very low fidelity (it’s not going to feel anything like actually being hit, and the limb being hit will not respond as it would naturally to an actual impact, and furthermore, it’s not possible to have enough solenoids or electrical stimulators to approximate every kind of hit in every body location at every angle).

    I applaud researchers for thinking outside the box and trying new things, but I just don’t see this one going anywhere.