Feel Your Way Through VR Spider's Webs
Written by Lucy Black   
Monday, 02 May 2022

The mouth comes a close second to the fingertips in terms of tactile sensitivity. This led researchers from the Future Interfaces Group of the Human-Computer Interaction Institute at Carnegie Mellon University to fit VR headset with ultrasonic transducers to see whether delivering sensations to the lips, teeth and tongue could enhance user experience.

While one media report of this project has the headline "VR Researchers Have Basically Figured Out How to Simulate the Feel of Kisses" there is in fact no mention of kissing in "Mouth Haptics in VR using a Headset Ultrasound Phased Array", a paper being  presented at this week's ACM CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI ’22). Even without such sensationalism this research takes virtual reality closer to its intention of fooling the brain into thinking the body is somewhere it isn't and undergoing experiences that are not actually happening.

The video explains how the research team used a thin, compact beam-forming array of ultrasonic transducers to focus acoustic energy onto the mouth so that haptic sensations could be felt on the lips, teeth and tongue. 

The video also showcases VR experiences used to test a number of different haptic effects. Several of these were incorporated into was a haunted forest experience, scenario in which users walk through spiders webs. To quote from the paper:

In this scenario, users must walk through spiderwebs to get to a
small clearing. Upon touching a spiderweb, an X swipe is animated,simulating the spiderweb being drawn off the face  In the clearing, a spider jumps onto the user’s mouth, which generates random impulses in an 1cm area that drifts to the side, simulating insect feet scurrying around and running off the side of the face. Later, the user must shoot a flare gun at a spider, which explodes into goo and splashes the user. This too utilizes random impulses, centered on the mouth...Finally, there is a large boss spider, dripping with venom that rains down onto the user, , manifesting as random Y swipes on the mouth:


Other experiences are embedded in a school scene. These include drinking from a water fountain, drinking coffee from a cup, taking a puff of a cigarette and teeth brushing.


The paper also outlines two small user experience studies. Presenting the results the researchers write:

our haptic condition uniformly outperformed ex-
periences without haptics. In short, and perhaps unsurprisingly, haptics boosts realism and immersion, and heightens user reactions. In particular, haptic sensations helped with VR events that fell outside the user’s field of view: “without haptics it was difficult to tell when things were supposed to be touching the face [...] I don’t even know when the cigarette is in my mouth” (P4), and “haptic effects made those virtual actions really cool" (P6).

In the conclusions they state:

Our user experience study results indicate that our system enhances realism and immersion in virtual reality. Additionally, participants uniformly preferred using our system to having no haptic feedback at all, signalling that mouth haptics could be an engaging addition to consumer VR systems.

More Information

by Vivian Shen, Craig Shultz and Chris Harrison

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Last Updated ( Monday, 02 May 2022 )