Picture: New Scientist
A mechanical backpack weight is designed to give you a realistic jumping sensation in VR. How does it work?
People who have to jump in VR rarely do so by actually jumping. Jumps in VR often involve relatively little real-world physical input. In PSVR 2 Horizon Call of the Mountain, however, this is solved quite well: Jumps are triggered by a powerful swing with both arms, which gives a good immersive and intense feeling.
Researchers at the University of Chicago have now developed the JumpMod backpack, which aims to make jumping in VR even more immersive.
Here’s how the VR JumpMod backpack works
VR gamers strap on the backpack, which attaches a vertical guide rail for a two-pound weight to their back. The weight can move up and down quickly, simulating physical forces. This is intended to enhance the perception of momentum during a jump or fall in Virtual Reality.
JumpMod detects jumping or falling in VR within milliseconds and moves the weight accordingly. This creates a kind of uplift, giving users the feeling that they are really jumping, or even jumping higher. When landing, the weight moves down, giving a more realistic feeling of landing or coming down.
The video shows the JumpMod in a VR game with rather strange scenarios: The player runs through an agricultural course and collects tokens to jump over cows or land in the mud.
More tokens mean more jump height, which is simulated by a faster upward movement of the weight on the back. On the other hand, pumpkins have to be destroyed in the game by jumping on them. The backpack recognizes this by moving the weight down.
Why more obvious scenarios – like a VR basketball game – were not used for the demonstration remains a mystery.
Not much more than an interesting experiment
The researchers presented their work on April 24 at the “Human Factors in Computing Systems” conference in Hamburg, Germany. According to them, JumpMod can also be used to train jumping techniques through physical feedback.
This technology is unlikely to make its way into our homes anytime soon. A backpack that is safe for home use would be quite bulky. It is also questionable who would strap on such a thing just to experience a more realistic jumping sensation in a VR game – which would also need to be supported by the app. However, it could be useful in a training context, for example in sports or rehabilitation.
There are a number of haptic experiments and products that aim to make VR tangible. Gloves from HaptX, for example, are being used in certain industries. So far, however, hardly anything has made it to the users homes. Haptics are mostly limited to vibration haptics in controllers. The best haptic feedback for VR is currently offered by the Sense controllers of the Playstation VR 2.