As promising as virtual and augmented reality technologies are shaping to be, they’re currently the equivalent of eating food with eyes closed and nose pinched. Designers Ava Aghakouchak and Maria Paneta at Interactive Architecture Lab at UCL want us to experience virtual worlds with eyes wide open, but also with the additional sensation of the tactile sitting directly over our largest organ: our skin.
In brief, Sarotis is a tactile sensory amplifier prosthetic – a piece of conceptual wearable technology designed to expand perception by adding a physical second skin layer. This is imagined using fluidic hydrogel coursing through the soft robotic wearable’s chambers, inflating and deflating sections to recreate physical feedback. Fluids can squeeze chambers to simulate pressure, and theoretically even be heated or cooled to simulate different temperature conditions.
Noting this is currently only an exploratory concept, it’s not difficult to imagine one day wearing a partial or full body outfit designed to work in collaboration with a VR head unit, providing tactile feedback of a greater degree than the simple touchscreen haptic feedback offered today. Imagine playing a giant robot game and feeling the tactile pressure of bullets bouncing off your armor, or the warmth of a jungle setting of an alien planet, or the gravitational forces while whipping around a race track.
By interconnecting what we see with what we feel, developers and designers like Ava Aghakouchak and Maria Paneta will improve the immersion factor of virtual reality by coordinated spatial sensation, taking advantage of the human propensity to fill-in the dots of what we experience by the sum of what we sense beyond simply sight.
Soon, we won’t just see imaginary worlds, but we’ll actually know what they feel like through some similar soft interface iteration of Sarotis interacting directly with our skin.