Impacto is an Arduino-driven device designed to render the haptic sensation of hitting and being hit in virtual reality.
Virtual reality has grown by leaps and bounds in recent years, and is poised to become the next big thing in gaming. Even with major brands like Oculus and Samsung helping lead the charge to a more immersive experience, there’s still one thing missing though: haptic feedback. In other words, being able to feel what is happening as if you’re actually there inside the augmented world.
That may soon change, however, thanks to researchers from Hasso Plattner Institute’s Human-Computer Interaction Lab. The team has developed working prototypes of a device they call Impacto, which is capable of rendering the sensation of hitting and being hit through tactile and electrical muscle simulation.
Impacto is integrated into a wireless band that can be worn around the arm, leg or foot of a virtual reality user, and when combined with a VR headset and custom software, simulates contact on the wearer so that they can actually touch virtual objects or feel if they’ve been struck.
To demonstrate the system, the team selected various VR sports games, including boxing and soccer. All the examples employed an Impacto for haptic feedback, an Oculus Rift for visuals and a Kinect for tracking. While boxing, the user sported the gadget around the bicep along wit an additional solenoid unit mounted to the back of the hand. This allowed the participant to actually experience the impact of jabs, blows and blocks from the virtual opponent. In the other use case, the Impacto was thrown around the user’s calves enabling him to juggle an imaginary soccer ball with his foot.
“The key idea that allows the small Impacto device to simulate a strong hit is that it decomposes the stimulus. It renders the tactile aspect of being hit by tapping the skin using a solenoid; it adds impulse to the hit by thrusting the user’s arm backwards using electrical muscle stimulation. Both technologies are small enough for wearable use,” the team of Pedro Lopes, Alexandra Ion and Patrick Baudisch explained in their research paper.
As for its hardware, Impacto is equipped with an Arduino Pro Micro (ATmega32U4), a Bluetooth module, an EMS unit, a solenoid, electrodes and batteries. The MCU and EMS are both powered through a 9V regulator, while the solenoid is driven directly from the 22.2V battery. Optionally, the solenoid power can be regulated down to 20V via another adjustable voltage regulator.
Intrigued? Watch the project in action below, or read all about it in its official paper here.