Electrical impulses control the head direction of VR players

David Cronenberg Videodrome Imagine a challenging future where technology and the body blend into one. Viewers of Videodrome – the in-universe program – begin to suffer severe hallucinations and become increasingly unable to separate what is real from what is being fed to them by the machine.

In the real world, we have historically had a clear separation between our physical lives and our digital entertainment. Even when things seem emotionally real, they don’t interact with us physically. The growing popularity of virtual and augmented reality is beginning to blur the lines between digital and digital experiences, and new research is making the overlap more realistic.

Yudai Tanaka, Pedro Lopez, and John Nishida from the Department of Computer Science at the University of Chicago – the same lab that brought us chemical touch They are not evil masterminds on a mission to take over humanity, but rather devising ways to make virtual reality experiences more powerful. at recent paper Titled Electrical Head Operation: Enabling Interactive Systems to Manipulate Head Orientation directly, they describe a system that uses electrical stimulation to control players’ head movements in a VR environment.

The system takes well-established electrical muscle stimulation technology, EMS for short, usually used as a medical rehabilitation tool, and uses it to control head orientation by delivering low-level shocks to the neck muscles.

The system sends electrical impulses to nerve cells connected to muscle fibers in the neck. When they receive the impulses, the neurons misinterpret them as motor signals and the muscles contract. We used this principle to move the neck muscles and control direction,” Tanaka told SafeWire.

Similar technology was used by Pedro Lopez A few years ago to simulate the sensation of weight when carrying virtual objects. The visual component of virtual reality is constantly improving, but the exploration of the virtual environment lacks realistic simulation when everything you interact with is a ghost without any tangible presence. By stimulating the muscles of the arms, Lopez was able to simulate the effects of gravity and give players the feeling that they were holding an object. The same basic premise is applied here, only now your actual body movements are, at least sometimes, controlled by the game.

In demos, the team used technology to direct users toward an object, in this case a fire extinguisher during a fire safety training program. Essentially, the software can sense when you’re having trouble figuring out where to look or what to do and send an electrical signal that turns your head in the right direction. More importantly, it can also make smart decisions about when to send a signal to ensure user safety. Which means that even if you shake your head in response to a punch from a hypothetical boxing opponent, you are unlikely to get hurt.

“The system has a function that knows if the user is moving, especially against the direction of the stimulus and will be shut down immediately to ensure operational safety,” Tanaka said.

Technologies like this can open up new possibilities for virtual reality designers and content creators, allowing them to give gamers clear direction while keeping their games and environments immersed. Traditionally, a game might place an up arrow on the screen, light a path, or use audio cues to point you in the right direction. In all of these cases, the content of the experiment is modified to give you information. This has the potential to break immersion.

“We were excited to see if there was a way to do this without changing the content. The idea is to keep it immersive and help the user know where to go or what to look at next,” Lopez said.

Outside of games, the Muscle Digital Interface may help people learn to perform physical tasks, such as performing an exercise correctly or learning to play a musical instrument, more easily by guiding the body through required muscle movements. Instead of giving you visual or auditory directions, the system talks directly to your muscles, ruling out the middle step.

Pointing an arrow doesn’t teach your body what to do. The Yudai system speaks directly to your body. There is a less translational step. We don’t yet know what it means to have a step-less translation, but people may learn better from this physical position, Lopez said. for training.”

The capabilities of this system may extend even beyond Earth. Although not designed with microgravity environments in mind, EMS is commonly used in medical rehabilitation to prevent or assist in reversal. loss of muscle mass. This is something that is a huge problem for astronauts living in microgravity. Spending time playing space VR games with direct muscle stimulation may help astronauts conserve muscle mass on their way to Mars and beyond, not to mention give them a chance to get out of a cramped ship, even virtual.

As we move toward an increasingly virtual future, the intersection between the digital and the physical is likely to continue to grow. Let’s just hope it’s more holodeck From Videodrome.