Today’s Solutions: January 29, 2023

We have to admit that the combination of pandemic social isolation (read: loneliness) and the continuing advancement of virtual reality (VR) technology makes this news particularly interesting. 

A new device developed by scientists at Carnegie Mellon University can create sensations on your lips and in and on your mouth to enhance your VR experience without any physical contact.

There’s been quite a lot of buzz around its potential to simulate the experience of smooching, but for now, the creators of the device say that it’s actually better suited for more delicate sensations… like a spider walking on your lips.

“You can’t make this giant ball of feeling,” Carnegie Mellon robotics Ph.D. student Vivian Shen explained to the Daily Beast. “That’s why all our example sensations are very small like a spider on your face or stuff like wind and rain.”

There are more practical uses for this VR tech than making a horror film even scarier, or a lonely heart a little less lonely. The inventors behind the device say that it could help train dentists and orthodontists, too.

How does it work?

To simulate the feeling of something physically touching your mouth, the device launches harmless ultrasound waves at the lower half of your face from 64 tiny transducers with “enough pressure that it actually dents your skin,” says Shen, co-author of a paper about the device that is yet to be peer-reviewed. “What it feels like is a tiny vibrating node in space.”

The device can replicate the sensation of sipping on a coffee, taking a drag of a cigarette, and even brushing your teeth, as demonstrated in this video. However, it can’t generate enough force to make the user feel as though they’ve been punched or slapped—yet.

Though it’ll still be a while before ultrasound wave technologies will be seen in consumer products, we will still be keeping an eye out for more developments on these exciting advancements in the world of VR, and all the opportunities they may lead to.

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