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Virtual kissing a step closer thanks to headset that stimulates the lips

Researchers have created a system for making a headset user feel sensations based on what they see through a head-worn virtual reality system.

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Virtual kissing is a step closer thanks to the development of a headset that can stimulate the LIPS (Future Interfaces Group via SWNS).

By Dean Murray via SWNS

Virtual kissing is a step closer – thanks to the development of a headset that can stimulate the LIPS.

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University’s Future Interfaces Group have created a system for making a headset user feel sensations based on what they see through a head-worn virtual reality (VR) system.

The team added a thin, compact, beamforming array of ultrasonic transducers to an ordinary VR headset.

Virtual kissing is a step closer thanks to the development of a headset that can stimulate the LIPS. (Future Interfaces Group via SWNS).

This mouth haptics hardware then focuses air-born acoustic energy onto the lips and into the mouth, creating sensations such as taps and continuous vibrations.

To demonstrate the system, the researchers built a variety of sensory demos, including raindrops, pushing through cobwebs, crawling bugs, brushing teeth, having a coffee and even smoking a cigarette.

To demonstrate the system, the researchers built a variety of sensory demos, including raindrops, pushing through cobwebs, crawling bugs, mud splashing, boxes hitting face, brushing teeth, having a coffee and even smoking a cigarette.(Future Interfaces Group via SWNS)

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A Future Interfaces Group spokesperson explains: “While in-air haptics using ultrasonic phased arrays is not new, we are the first to integrate the technology into a headset for use on the mouth and explore the rich application space.

“In addition to the lips, our effects can be felt on the teeth and tongue. When coupled with coordinated graphical feedback, the effects are convincing, boosting realism and immersion."

An important part of the research was to not have a bulky headset covering the face. To that end, all components are integrated into the headset, meaning the user does not need to wear an additional accessory, or place any external infrastructure in their room.

The study explains: “Today’s consumer virtual reality (VR) systems offer limited haptic feedback via vibration motors in handheld controllers. Rendering haptics to other parts of the body is an open challenge, especially in a practical and consumer-friendly manner.

“The mouth is of particular interest, as it is a close second in tactile sensitivity to the fingertips, offering a unique opportunity to add fine-grained haptic effects.

“In this research, we developed a thin, compact, beamforming array of ultrasonic transducers, which can render haptic effects onto the mouth.”

However, online love may have to wait a while longer as kissing is harder to simulate.

Research team member Chris Harrison explains: "We can focus sound waves sort of like a laser, and create a dimple spot or a vibration on the skin. That’s great for simulating things like rain drops, or insects crawling, or water splashes, or wind, but a kiss is quite complex and more of an area effect than a point effect.

Virtual kissing is a step closer thanks to the development of a headset that can stimulate the LIPS. (Future Interfaces Group via SWNS)

"That said, today’s VR headsets have no feeling of touch for the mouth at all, so we’re at least moving in the right direction with extra immersion, even if it is incomplete for some effects."

The study, "Mouth Haptics in VR using a Headset Ultrasound Phased Array," by Vivian Shen, Craig Shultz, and Chris Harrison, is published in CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI ’22), April 29-May 5, 2022.

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