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How AI and Haptics Could Revolutionize VR Gaming


Emerging technologies could add a whole new level of immersion to VR.

If you’re reading this right now, chances are, you’re not really familiar with the topic of neuroevolution. Or deep learning. Or natural language processing. Frankly, this is normal– these are all smaller subsets of artificial intelligence (AI), and it’s still a new, competitive, and developing field. However, from my experience researching and working with these subsets, there is a large potential to create games, specifically VR games, that are tailored to the human experience. Artificial intelligence, is defined as machine intelligence, and if applied properly, it could revolutionize gaming as we know it.

Currently, VR is optimized for socializing in a virtual space, and covers the visual spectrum for humans, by allowing them to be immersed in a 3D environment. These are already great strides, but there’s certainly a lot of room for improvement. For example, AI’s subset of neuroevolution could allow games to be tailored to one’s unique experience, by ‘evolving’ the game characters to move differently in every single game, rendering challenges for the player, as it makes every move unreplicable. A great application this could be utilized in are the famous zombie VR games, for example– Arizona Sunshine or Brookhaven Experiment. Could you imagine all your senses being stimulated and immersed in horror games like these? 

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Image Credit: Vertigo Games

AI’s implications are larger than just this, though. It could be the stepping stone into creating a real virtual world, perhaps without (or with less) moderation. In a fully automated VR society, things would be more efficient. AI not only affects the virtual environment, but could be critical in improving the haptics and motion-gear associated with VR as well. At the moment, most VR games are paired with a headset and two motion controllers. However, humans instinctively crave real touch, and there’s no better way to achieve the true feeling of touch than by improving VR gear to replicate that very sensation.

The problem is, with humans, sight, hearing, taste, and smell are all localized to the face region whereas touch is spread and distributed across the body, posing a severe challenge and limitation to the immersion in VR. That leaves three different solutions: graspable, wearable and touchable haptic systems.

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Image Credit: Stanford Shape Lab

For VR purposes, however, a combination between graspable and wearable would be optimal for a smoother virtual experience. That’s where haptic suits and gloves come in– and fortunately, there are a few companies already working on this! 

BHaptics, for instance, has a tactsuit that allows sensations from VR to be received at over 70 haptic feedback points. The company also has other products such as ‘Tactosy’ for the feet and hands. 

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Image Credit: Engadget

Teslasuit is another company trying to improve VR haptics, however, they have a more specialized focus on performance training. Their suit is optimized for haptic feedback, motion capture, temperature control, and biometrics.

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Image Credit: Teslasuit

One major challenge posed by haptics is the unique sense and feeling of gravity– we can fool our brains as much as we can, but gravity and the laws of physics have proved to be a difficult opponent in the field. In order to combat that, a research lab at Stanford developed Grabity, an interface that simulates weight and grasping in VR. By vibrating in certain ways, it produces the illusion of weight and inertia. 

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Image Credit: Stanford Shape Lab

Speech is huge in virtual reality– one of our most important and unique traits as humans is our ability to communicate and empathize with each other, after all. This is where natural language processing (NLP) comes in. As another subset of AI, there are several projects within NLP that could be useful in VR, such as speech-to-text or vice versa. As we know, VR can be an incredibly useful tool for language learners and culture enthusiasts, and enabling NLP methods within VR would allow for realistic communication.

There’s a lot of strides yet to be made, as artificial intelligence, vast as it is, is still centered on pattern recognition, and has yet to really automate ‘intelligence’ so to speak. However, some of these projects are pushing towards a better future in virtual reality, by allowing more realistic approaches to replicate human sensation in games and in theory. With time, as these technologies improve and progress, they’ll become more light, comfortable, affordable and adaptable for society. 

Perhaps, we’re closer to Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One more than ever, but the journey has only just started. After all, there’s so much room for improvement.

Feature Image Credit: HaptX VR Gloves

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