How Gadgets Bring Reality to VR

You'll be like Tom Cruise in ‘Minority Report’

Key Takeaways

  • Virtual reality is getting more like real life, but you can enhance the experience with a range of gadgets. 
  • Keyboards are under development that will allow you to sync the real-life article with your motions in VR. 
  • You can buy a gaming chair for less than $1,500 that promises to replicate the movements you experience in a VR game.
An image of the TeslaSuit
TESLASUIT

Virtual reality can transport users anywhere from alien worlds to medical simulations. But adding a growing number of hardware accessories for VR goggles could create an even more realistic experience. 

One day soon, you may be comfortably typing in virtual reality or feel the bullets in a game with a haptic suit. Researchers at Facebook are working on a virtual floating keyboard where you touch any surface to type. Other devices will bring users even closer to virtual worlds, experts say.

"The more input devices that are supported by VR will only make VR experiences more productive," Edward Haravon, co-founder of VR/AR advisory firm Get Real said in an email interview. "Whether that is replicating tasks currently reserved for 2D desktop platforms, or decreasing friction for something as simple as logging on—the more a VR headset can be 'press-and-play,' the more people will use it to enhance their productivity."

Feel More with a Haptic Suit

One of the hottest categories in the VR accessory world involves wearables like flex sensing gloves and even full bodysuits. For example, Teslasuit is working on a device that looks like a scuba wetsuit and would let you "feel" bullets if you are shot in a game.

There are many haptic gloves under development that are designed to translate hand movements into games and apps. Think Tom Cruise in "Minority Report." VRgluv touts its "force feedback" gloves for VR training. These gloves aren’t quite ready for gamers. Still, the company says they allow users to "perform hands-on tasks in VR naturally and with a realistic sense of touch to make your training scenarios more effective," according to its website

Someone with VR glasses sitting on a jetty at the lake with their feet in the water.
WestEnd61 / Getty Images

"Haptic elements can be used to increase immersion in VR (e.g., feeling the weight or tension from an object in a virtual world while grasping it)," Arjun Nagendran, co-founder and CTO of the virtual reality software company Mursion, said in an email interview. "Handheld controllers that afford degrees—three or six—of freedom can add capacitive sensing, and straps for hands-free experience are also being developed. These are most commonly used for selection and interaction functions."

Chairs to Make You Even More Nauseous?

If you really want to feel like you’re part of the action, you might want to consider a motion simulator. For $1,490, you can buy a gaming chair from Yaw VR that moves in sync with the game you play. There’s also a Kickstarter project called Feel Three, more of an egg-shaped recliner designed to work with VR that claims to give you even more range of motion than a gaming chair. 

On a more practical level, keyboards might be a useful gadget for your VR experience. "While any good typist will tell you that typing fast becomes more about feel than sight, this isn't currently possible with a virtual keyboard," Matt Wren, co-founder and CTO of the augmented reality firm BUNDLAR, said in an email interview. "The advantage is the fact that a physical keyboard is no longer required." 

Transparent tablet with digital virtual keyboard
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Oculus, the VR company owned by Facebook, recently announced Infinite Office, software that allows users to do their work in VR. A Logitech keyboard can be synced with the Oculus so that users can type in real life as their words appear in VR.

"Ultimately, keyboards need to be tracked objects in the VR space, and that tracking can occur with cameras onboard the headset with little to no special intelligence in the keyboard itself—but it doesn't hurt if the keyboard can signal itself visually with LEDs," Jeff Powers co-founder and CEO of the VR company Arcturus Industries said in an email interview.

Powers said his company is working on blending VR with the real world. "You can see how we allow the user to see through to the real world to do things like reach a keyboard, with Room View 3D that we launched with Valve," he added.

Of course, if you’ve got a keyboard, you’ll also need a stylus. Logitech is working on a VR stylus called Ink that allows you to draw in 3D with the tactile feedback of using a pen. For now, it’s aimed at businesses, but industry observers say it’s only a matter of time before the technology trickles down to consumers. 

"The more input devices that are supported by VR will only make VR experiences more productive."

VR’s Future May Be Sports 

In the future, VR accessories might take cues from technology designed for people with disabilities, Sukriti Chadha, an accessibility product manager at the digital music service Spotify said in an email interview.

"For example, being able to leverage eye-tracking, surrounding cameras, heart-rate sensors, brain-computer interfaces, etc., to communicate and provide input," she added. "In this immersive experience, it will be less a concept of physical devices than ambient technology that processes these various signals."

As vision technology advances, more input types based on sports equipment will become available, observers say. "E-Games and competitions will be at a new level," Raine Kajastila, CEO of game developer and hardware manufacturer Valo Motion, said in an email interview.

"We will be able to compete around the world, in a safe environment, without traveling while promoting health and wellness through movement. It will not be long before we have global sports competitions with the ability for anyone to compete with anyone from their own location."

A child wearing VR glasses lying on the ground in a garden.
Westend61 / Getty Images

We may soon be speaking more into VR headsets. The most significant input advances for VR headsets will come in voice-to-text {VTT), similar to what we are used to on our mobile phones, Haravon said. "Many software platforms support some VTT right now, and I would expect the technology only to improve in the coming months as VR headsets gain users," he added.

"There still is the issue of how to manage the VTT in multiplayer environments (i.e., how do we know what voice to record to text), but I would expect that to be handled at some point in the near future to advance the technology."

Virtual reality is having its moment this year with a new headset from Oculus and lots of new games. Perhaps now is the time to buy that motion simulator chair to make your virtual adventures a little more real.

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