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Haptic Tech: Touch And Feel In The Metaverse

Google has recently spent a rumored $ 1 billion on a startup specializing in AR (augmented reality) and VR (virtual reality) headset displays. Behind the scenes, eagle-eyed media recently found Google job listings recruiting innovators “focused on making immersive computing accessible for billions of people through their mobile devices”.

Why is all the attention on AR glasses rather than fully immersive VR headsets? Because augmented reality glasses will serve as the primary gateway to the metaverse, acting as physical browsers for toggling between the physical dimension virtual AR worlds, whether at home or out and about.

Achieving The Mobile Metaverse 

The value of UWB (ultra-wideband) for the short-range wireless delivery of critically important visual, audio and touch stimuli will be crucial to the metaverse. All will play key roles in enabling metaverse immersion, with video and audio capabilities integrated into our smart-glasses and headsets and haptic feedback distributed to our bodies via a new generation of VR gloves as well as wearable peripherals.

These new devices will become as ubiquitous and essential in our daily lives as smartphones are today, carried with us wherever we go for as long as the battery charges will last. The metaverse will fundamentally be mobile, and we will be reliant on our devices being charged and ready for use as we carry out our day-to-day business.

VentureBeat is the “holy grail” of fully realized augmented reality glasses with the ability to effectively address power consumption – not a simple feat when you consider the large volumes of data that will flow amongst the wearable devices in personal area networks (PANs).

UWB vs. Bluetooth In The Metaverse 

UWB answers all these challenges head-on, excelling in ways legacy Bluetooth cannot. Bluetooth compresses data streams to fit tight bandwidth constraints and consumes a lot of precious power in doing so. UWB technology is unrivaled in how it can deliver requisite high data throughput at short-range with incredibly low latency and power consumption.

Its performance profile gives AR and VR glasses designers the ability to extend device battery life without the need for increasingly bulky and cumbersome batteries added to the design. UWB, therefore, helps ensure that smart-glasses wearers can enjoy long operational times with fewer interruptions for battery charging, without the added bulk/heft of large-sized batteries to impede the user experience.

UWB’s reduced latency is key in ensuring that the data is refreshed and presented in real-time, corresponding to users’ actions within a dynamic virtual environment. This will assure more seamless immersion in the metaverse and will also eliminate timing lags that can distort our perception, detracting from our metaverse experiences. 

In mitigating interference between AR/VR devices, UWB outperforms Bluetooth again. UWB readily coexists with wireless protocols and sidesteps Bluetooth’s heavily congested 2.4MHz ISM band, helping to ensure greater AR/VR device interoperability with far fewer signal interruptions and/or drop-out situations. The orders of magnitude performance advantages that UWB technology provides compared to legacy Bluetooth (10x higher data throughput, 40x better energy efficiency, and 60x lower latency) will be essential for enabling the mobile metaverse.

UWB’s short-range wireless connectivity is now optimized for metaverse enabling devices like AR glasses and gloves and will have use in other peripherals still to come, providing robust, high-quality data comms that are necessary for enabling seamless metaverse immersion on the fly, with the power efficiency to ensure long usage times between recharging.

UWB: Touch And Haptics

Our understanding of the metaverse is evolving quickly as technologists and pundits debate its major implications for the future of entertainment, social interaction, and socioeconomics. With our experiences in the physical and virtual worlds blending together more frequently and seamlessly, it is clear that the underlying quality and immersion of metaverse experiences hinges almost entirely on the robustness of data communications platforms.

In our personal area networks of the future, metaverse enabling data would require higher speed wireless data delivery than the existing short-range technologies such as Bluetooth can provide.

In the metaverse, this data would flow to AR glasses, headsets, VR gloves, and other peripherals to stimulate the users’ senses. The delivery of audio/hearing and visual stimuli are critically important, along with touch and haptics.

Why Touch Is Important In The Metaverse

Our immersion in the metaverse would remain fundamentally incomplete absent our ability to touch objects, environments, and other users’ avatars, gathering tactile information we rely on to fuse our full perception and to complete the sensory loop.

Haptics, along with vibrotactile feedback technologies, is already common today in the gaming domain. Console game controllers can feature shake or rumble effects and low-frequency vibration, simulating the force feedback incoming from a variety of virtual game elements, allowing gamers to feel the physical effects of their interactions in virtual worlds. These experiences range from the thrill of flight simulation to the intensity of battle and more.

With console game controllers, this is typically achieved through the use of vibrotactile actuators. This technology is increasingly advancing, leading developers to explore innovations in microfluidic simulated “skin” and other tactile enablers. 

Today, this technology has already produced VR gloves with simulated material skins just 1.5mm thick. These gloves were specifically designed to give surgeons a real-world feel of surgical instruments and procedures in virtual surgical training, and it doesn’t get much more sensitive than that. This application illustrates the tremendous value of augmentative and assistive apps enabled with virtual and augmented reality in the metaverse. These smart glasses and VR gloves give you the ability to teach and/or guide people remotely as if they were next to you. It portends a huge future for industrial, medical, educational, and customer service apps in the metaverse. These are just some uses among a very long list.

Haptic Feedback From Head to Toe

These touch augmenting peripherals are currently largely confined to a user’s hands via game controllers and gloves. But the use of haptics in immersive entertainment is evolving to provide more full-body sensations, as evidenced by the recent development of haptic feedback chairs designed for experiencing music, movies, and games more fully and viscerally.

Some other exciting haptic innovations are fast approaching. Torso-mounted peripherals, for instance, have been developed to deliver greater resolution and range for pro and consumer audio apps, leveraging skin, bone, and muscle level vibration frequencies.

These applications and countless others to follow that use touch-based feedback will play a key role in the advent of the multisensory metaverse. For the ability to deliver life-like experiences across all the senses, huge volumes of data are transmitted wirelessly at extremely low latency to peripherals that comprise our PANs, and we want these devices to last a long time between recharging. UWB implementation delivers on every front and far exceeds what can be achieved with legacy Bluetooth.

As we assess these sensory elements holistically within the broader metaverse framework, we will gain a better essential understanding of a deeper, foundational value proposition for tomorrow’s metaverse: mobility.