Disney Research wants to make VR haptics as immersive as visuals

Adding the missing dimension in VR: body sensations
December 2, 2016

The framework of  the VR360HD app. The game engine renders animated audiovisual and haptic media defined by triggers and user behaviors and associates them with a VR media stream. Haptics is played back on a passive user sitting on or wearing a haptic device. (credit: Disney Research)

Disney Research has developed a 360-degree virtual-reality app that enables users to enhance their experience by adding customized haptic (body sensations) effects that can be triggered by user movements, biofeedback, or timelines.

A team led by Ali Israr, senior research engineer at Disney Research, has demonstrated the haptic plugin using a unique chair to provide full body sensations and a library of “feel effects” that enabled users to select and customize sensations such as falling rain, a beating heart, or a cat walking.

Beyond buzz

“Our team is working to make VR haptic sensations just as rich as the 360-degree visual media now available,” said Israr.

“Current VR systems provide ‘buzz-like’ haptic sensations through hand controllers,” he said. “But technology exists for much richer sensations. We’ve created a framework that would enable users to select from a wide range of meaningful sensations that can be adjusted to complement the visual scene and to play them through a variety of haptic feedback devices.”

The haptic playback and authoring plugin developed by the researchers connects a VR game engine to a custom haptic device. It allows users to create, personalize and associate haptic feedback to the events triggered in the VR game engine.

Whole lotta shakin’ goin’ on

The haptic app, called VR360HD, was developed and tested using a consumer headset and Disney Research’s haptic chair. The chair features a grid of six vibrotactile actuators in its back and two subwoofers, or “shakers,” in the seat and back. The grid produces localized moving sensations in the back, while the subwoofers shake two different regions of the body and can create a sensation of motion.

Users were able to select from a library of feel effects, also assembled and tested by Disney Research. These feel effects are identified with common terms such as rain, pulsing, or rumbling, and can be adjusted so that people can distinguish, for instance, between a light sprinkle and a heavy downpour.

“Combining creativity and innovation, this research continues Disney’s rich legacy of inventing new ways to tell great stories and leveraging technology required to build the future of entertainment,” the researchers note.

The researchers shook up the ACM Symposium on Virtual Reality Software and Technology with their VR360 player on Nov. 2–4 in Munich.

Abstract of VR360HD- A VR360° Player with Enhanced Haptic Feedback

We present a VR360° video player with haptic feedback playback. The VR360HD application enhances VR viewing experience by triggering customized haptic effects associated with user’s activities, biofeedback, network messages and customizable timeline triggers incorporated in the VR media. The app is developed in the Unity3D game engine and tested using a GearVR headset, therefore allowing users to add animations to VR gameplay and to the VR360° streams. A custom haptic plugin allows users to author and associate animated haptic effects to the triggers, and playback these effects on a custom haptic hardware, the Haptic Chair. We show that the VR360HD app creates rich tactile effects and can be easily adapted to other media types.