Haptic technology comes in many varieties, and you’re probably most used to experiencing it as vibration on your smartphone. It’s the sharp buzz you get as you type on the keyboard or tap a particular icon that lets you know your interaction has been registered. The feedback is helpful — almost necessary — for working in a virtual environment that has no innate tactility. That’s particularly true in virtual reality, and Wind-Blaster is a wearable device that provides force feedback to make that reality feel more real.
Force feedback is a form of haptic technology, and just like your smartphone’s vibration, its purpose is to let you feel a virtual object. In virtual reality, objects feel insubstantial because they are. There is, of course, nothing actually there. Force feedback pushes back on your hand when you touch a virtual object so that you feel like you’re actually interacting with something tangible. Wind-Blaster provides that force feedback with the thrust from a pair of propellers.
This setup is distinct from more conventional systems that push back with something like a motorized arm, because Wind-Blaster is worn on the user’s wrist and doesn’t require a mounted apparatus. The two propellers can rotate on the wrist band so that the thrust force can be directed in multiple vectors. It can, for example, push your wrist back towards your body, pull it away, or twist it. Those different feedback options correspond to many different actions that you’d find in a video game, and could give you the feeling of resistance when you hit an enemy with a sword, or recoil from a gunshot.
Wind-Blaster is a prototype created by students at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, so you probably won’t see it on store shelves anytime soon. But, it’s a novel way to provide versatile force feedback in a compact, wearable format.