Headlines about new haptic virtual reality kissing technology are making the rounds. But the researchers behind it never once mentioned kissing. And they didn’t design their experiments with that purpose in mind. The video of their simulation includes basic sensations like wind and rain. But also horrifying ones like walking through spiderwebs or a spider scurrying over your mouth. If that sounds the same as kissing, then I think you’re doing it wrong. But I don’t want to yuck anyone’s yum.
It’s inevitable that humans will use mouth haptics in virtual reality for kissing and other intimate simulations. But the researchers used a variety of safe for work visuals in their tests. Like brushing your teeth or drinking from a water fountain. For some reason, they also simulated a haunted forest. You can shoot the spider after it crawls on you, but it then splatters goo on your face.
Scientists at the Futures Interfaces Group at Carnegie Mellon University added ultrasonic devices to a standard VR headset. They point at the mouth and target pulses and swipes at the lips, teeth, or tongue. Most haptic devices currently involve our hands and fingers, like cell phone menus and VR accessories. The mouth is the second most sensitive area, thus the researchers focus for enhancing VR. It also means their accessory mounts to the headset and doesn’t add any other equipment.
The scientists published their research paper online, which we found via Gizmodo. It also includes survey results from the research participants who tested the device. All said they preferred the haptic experience to a VR display without the added accessory. No word on if they would have preferred a less creepy simulation. It seems likely, based on the reaction of the study participant above and in the video.
Other researchers developed a haptic VR accessory that brings sensations like warming, cooling, and even numbing via a chemical patch. There’s also haptics in some sensory video game experiences.
This tech reminds me of one of my favorite ’90s action movies, Demolition Man. It takes place in 2032 and so-called “fluid transfer” is outlawed due to disease outbreaks. Virtual reality sex is the only socially accepted option in this dystopia. That future is not so distant anymore and this could be the technology that sets us on that path. While we wait on the promised sequel, I recommend giving the 1993 classic a watch. Or at least the “sex” scene between Sylvester Stallone and Sandra Bullock.
Melissa is Nerdist’s science & technology staff writer. She also moderates “science of” panels at conventions and co-hosts Star Warsologies, a podcast about science and Star Wars. Follow her on Twitter @melissatruth.