But the holy grail of feedback is a mechanism that can appear to respond to what the player is doing in real time by providing varying responses — and a team at the Stanford Shape Lab have taken a shot at doing just that. The shapeShifter is a motorized device that can configure itself to “map” the characteristics of a physical object. It uses a similar mechanism to a pin art board, in which an array of physical pins is pressed to an object to create a three-dimensional map. A video of the system is embedded below:
The entire demonstration system sits on wheels and can rotate to present different aspects of the device to the users’ hands. As an approach, it’s entirely different from most of what we’ve seen to date. Typical feedback systems from other manufacturers have focused on haptic feedback. New Atlas points out that Disney has demonstrated the Force Jacket — a prototype VR device that uses pressurized bladders to simulate pressure and vibrations through linking 26 inflatable pockets within the jacket itself. Other solutions have focused on incorporating haptic motors into gloves, boots, or the inevitable (and beloved by sci-fi) full-body VR suit.
This technology could be used at high resolution or within large-scale warehouse-style VR deployments to create pillars, stairs, or other objects, the New Atlas report said. I tend to get hung up in such discussions with wondering whether warehouse-scale VR could ever itself become a thing, given how much trouble we’re having getting people to buy into the living room version, but that’s the joy of being a researcher as opposed to working on commercially launching a product. The idea of a room with geometry that could reconfigure itself to match what you see in VR has a certain Holodeck-like quality to it, though hopefully, we’d be able to expand the list of materials so that not everything had to be made from steel pegs.