Give PEAs a chance

PEAs in our time

Presence-Enhancing Accessories (PEAs), Immersables, Dislocators – whatever you want to call them – they’re all a very important part of the future of VR. As any blind person will tell you, sight is not the only sense that needs to be working in order to inform you of your surroundings. In a virtual environment hearing, touch, smell, heat/cold, vibrations, pressure and more can combine to complete the envelopment and feeling of ‘being there’. Graphical imagery isn’t enough to cut it just yet, though it does provide the single most important aspect (seeing is believing).  The VR revolution is going to create new demand for connected accessories, capable of providing feedback from your virtual environment. If it’s an escapist’s haven you’re after, then PEAs are going to figure highly on your list of must-haves.

Wesley and Riker on the holodeck
Wesley? Come back, we didn’t mean it..

In The Zone

Immersive technology has been around for a while, in the form of haptic feedback, tactile response and sub/ultra-sonic devices relying on good-old-fashion focus and enthusiasm to generate an increased sense of involvement. That’s still a useful trait, of course, but with the latest VR headsets’ massive improvements in performance – both displaying *and* tracking – the gap between what was happening on-screen and in your head just started hugging your face. And that’s putting it mildly; the actual effect is much more profound.  In a sense, you won’t be able to see the forest for the trees.

Camouflage Soldier
DARPA’s new GI-ANT warriorplex simulate attacks on Lilliput

The effect of completely surrounding yourself with a representation of another environment allows your mind to wander into the new realm, and actually feel like you are there. Everything you see and do is magnified when compared to traditional gaming. Fun is more fun, awe is more (and then some), scary is absolutelyfrickingterrifying and leaping along rooftops is exactly how you remember it from your dreams.

The catch is, it is easy to ‘drop out’ or reconnect with Base Realitytm if something grabs your attention that doesn’t ‘feel right’. This could be the fact you can’t see your virtar’s body, or their arms don’t move at the same speed as yours. In the polished VR product, both hardware *and* software should know where your body is and simulate what is happening to it.  Teams of both fronts are working very hard to ensure these things happen in synch.  The primary focus is on the visual side, of course, but if the hardware and software are well on the way to treating our eyeballs to alternate realities, what can we do for our other senses?

The State of the Art

Enter the new market of presence-enhancing accessories (PEAs), designed with one thing in mind: to increase immersion and give you a sense of presence. Roughly speaking, this is anything that helps simulate effects on your body in sync with events occuring in the VR environment.

Here’s a list of some of the solutions being worked on. We’ll be covering them all in detail throughout their development, so follow us on one of the major social scenes to get a heads-up.  Below are just a few examples of devices currently available or under active development and we’ll be updating this page as well as convering them in full in later posts.

 

Simulation Sense P.E.A.
INPUT Hearing Surround sound
Binaural audio
Soundlazer
Touch Ultra-sonics
Disney’s Aireal
Tactile screens
Smell oPhone Smell-O-Vision
Heat/Cold VR-controlled fans
IR heaters
Vibrations Chairs and pads
Sub-sonics
Pressure Gloves
Backpacks/Chest packs
OUPUT (Feedback) Orientation Stem
Tracking
Positional Omni
Stem
Control VR
iMotion
Wizdish

These are just a selection of VR innovations in early prototype stages.  Some are purpose-built for presence, others are not VR-specific, but in all cases you can see the potential for mass-adoption (say, one of the biggest companies in the world investing billions into VR or summat).  Remember, the biggest lie of all is already being told to your face!  PEAs just have to corroborate the story.

Deus Ex Machina

So where can we end up?  If things take off (hard to see any other outcome at present), what might be around the corner?  Could we reach a point where VR environments are indistinguishable from reality?  What would have to happen in order to get there?  If we were all experiencing the same virtual environment, would it be tempting to stay?  Are we already there?!?  Who’s feeding us?  Oh god, I hope I don’t have those icky tubes stuck in my back like Neo in the Matrix..  We’ll explore this in more detail [here].

Weapon Of Choice

Some PEAs are a must for anyone serious about staying in the zone, such as orientation and positional tracking (which effectively map your virtar to your body’s actual movements). These are the most important factors in developing presence. Depending on your playing style, you might want to consider some custom options..

If you’re a running-gunning son of anarchy, then you’ll probably want to get some pulse-pounding pressure pads strapped to your chest, so when LudicrousGibs81 tests his shotgun on your solar plexus you’ll feel the hit as your virtar turns to mush.

If you’re a speed freak or fly-boy you’d probably do well to get yourself some sub-sonic pads or chair speakers to give you a kick in the pants when you flip it for real.

Skyrim dragon breath
Well, at least my tootsies aren’t cold any more..

Exploration your thing? You’ll want to kit yourself out with environmental feedback mechanisms like fans and heaters (for wind, sun, hill-tops and dragon’s breath).

How about being able to feel the objects you’re seeing? Impossible? Not quite. A variety of firms are well on the way to developing ultra-sonics that create a tangible presence in the very air around you, so that you can explore the environment with your hands as well as eyes. This is unlikely to be cheap, but you can bet this is on everyone’s Christmas list!

Of course, mankind’s 2nd favourite technology driver (porn) shouldn’t be left out and this is where industry never really stopped looking for new and interesting ways to get their rocks off.  We’re bemused to know quite where that could lead, so check in our DOSIMO section for a heads-up on that kind of thing.

This is just the beginning, as VR takes to the main stage we’ll see more inventiveness and real 21st century solutions. We’ll let you know when.

A note on dislocation

Complete submersion into a virtual world isn’t for everyone. Some manufacturers are leaving ‘breadcrumb trails’ to allow users to ‘anchor’ their awareness in Base Realitytm. It’s a bit like putting your foot on the floor next to the bed when you’re really drunk and trying to get a grip on which way is up. Some, like Sony, are leaving gaps in the headset so you can see where you are, others are still thinking up more interesting options, like Totem’s stereoscopic cameras.

On that note, sometime soon, VR stages will be mapped directly to your actual environment, defining more of an Augmented Virtual Reality (AVR) experience. With so much of the real world coming into play, the requirement for PEAs isn’t so large.  But what we’re left to wonder is that if you were to spend too much time defending yourself against wardrobe ninjas at home, would you ever feel safe fetching a pair of socks even with the headset off?

It’d be easy to see some people getting lost and I fully expect to see someone walking around the supermarket with an HMD on ratattating at invisible baddies* by 2018.  Whether this is qualitatively discernable from people on PCP, I’m not sure, but it’s the 21st century, so let’s just wait and see.

* or possibly at me, appearing to them to be an invading alien from planet Zarjaz.

Toby Worth
#HEARMENOW

Toby Worth

Project Lead at VR-Gaming
I'm an incorrigible space cadet and a proper Knerd (crusading nerd).
Really enjoying things now the 21st century is getting into full-swing.As a self-appointed evangelist of ideas that are ahead of their time I will happily talk at you over ale.
Toby Worth
#HEARMENOW

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