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New Approach to Virtual Reality Shocks You Into Believing Walls Are Real

Haptic feedback device uses electric muscle stimulator to mimic lifting objects and touching walls.

Haptic feedback remains one of virtual reality's greatest challenges—the recent headsets do a decent job of tricking our eyes into believing we're somewhere else, but that illusion usually shatters when you try to reach out and touch something.

A team of researchers from Germany's Hasso-Plattner Institute is trying to change that. For years physical therapists have used electric muscle stimulators to help patients rehabilitate or strengthen their muscles, and similarly, the new device sends little electric shocks to sensors on your arms that stimulate your muscles whenever you press against a wall or try to lift a heavy object in virtual reality. It sounds kinda freaky, but apparently touching of lifting something feels much like the real thing and the shocks don't even hurt.

Image: Pedro Lopes

The team's main goal was to create this illusion as cheaply as possible. Their contraption, seen in the video above, consists of little more than an electric muscle stimulator stuffed in a backpack, the sensors, and a Samsung GearVR device accompanied by motion trackers. In other words, if you've been turned off by the clunky headsets of the contemporary VR experience, this probably won't do much to win you over.

Still, it potentially marks a massive step in the advancement of realistic virtual reality. With such technology, it might not be long until we see see EMS body suits shipping with new Vive or Oculus units.