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How far will haptics go?

Key to a truly immersive Metaverse will be the ability for visitors to experience virtual environments in a realistic and sensory way. One way to achieve this is the use of haptics, from the Greek haptikos meaning “able to touch or grasp”, which is a technology that allows users to interact with virtual objects in a seemingly physical way.

In the 2018 film adaptation of Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One, main protagonist Wade Watts experiences the film’s version of the Metaverse, the “OASIS”, via a full body haptic suit. The “X1 haptic bootsuit” is a full body suit which features a “microfibre crotch inlay”. In-film advertisements features a scary teenager exclaiming that “When I'm after gold on Planet Doom, I need every edge I can get. Every push, punch, gunshot, you feel it all”, suggesting to the audience that the “bootsuit” allows users to feel pain.

In a recent interview, Emi Tamaki, co-founder of Sony-backed, Japanese company Happy Hacking Life, or H2L, said that: “Feeling pain enables us to turn the Metaverse world into a real [world], with increased feelings of presence and immersion.” While H2L’s technology is not purely designed to inflict pain, it does raise questions. Is this something we should be concerned about? Is this something authorities should be legislating for? Like most things in life, there’s no straightforward answer.

In a March post we imagined opportunities for Disney in the Metaverse. This included opportunities for users to experience the impact of climate change in 2050 within Disney’s “National Geographic Metaverse”. Giving people the opportunity to feel the sweltering heat of a world where we have failed to respond to climate change, while uncomfortable, would surely raise both awareness and action round this most critical of issues.

But what about opportunities for cyberbullying? As we move from Web 2.0 to Web 3.0 and increase convergence of physical and digital worlds, there is an opportunity for cyberbullies for move from scaring, angering, and shaming, to hurting, injuring, and wounding.

While companies will no doubt introduce systems that limit the amount of damage or discomfort that can experienced by users of haptic technology, there are others who are harnessing the power of haptic feedback for training purposes.

Australian company Virtureal specialize in “the development of Translocative and Fully-Immersive Virtual Reality simulations, for tactical and weapons training within defence and first responder organisations.” Using the latest haptic technology, such as the Teslasuit’s full-body haptic feedback system, companies like Virtureal are recreating everything from “the brutal impact of a bullet to the body, to the delicate and complex sensation of standing in a downpour.”

The question is “how much safeguarding needs to be put in place to ensure that people don’t come to physical harm in the Metaverse?”

Johann Walter Bantz/unsplash

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