Researchers from National Taiwan University and Tamkang University are presenting a project at SIGGRAPH this week that shows potential for VR arcades as it recreates realistic weather effects that could enhance immersion.
Their system is suspended from the ceiling with modules inside that send down cold air, hot air, wind, and mist. It includes a Vive Tracker on top and its modules can turn in some directions so the environmental effects can be directed straight at a person in VR.
I took a quick trip through a sample experience that perfectly showcased the system’s potential. First I started in a neutral environment that seemed to resemble a monastery from Doctor Strange. And just like the movie, using a circular motion with the Vive controller in hand I opened a portal through which I could see another part of the world. The moment I stepped through the portal I encountered what felt like the environment of the new place. This included a wet cave, a cold mountaintop and a windy desert. In each place I felt the wet mist, cold air or hot wind on my neck and arms, dramatically enhancing my sense of place.
The rig includes some limitations in its current version. Some of the machinery can be so loud you can hear it even with headphones on, and you can only move backward and forward in a small space to receive the full weather effect. The unit could use some increased directional advances — perhaps putting the whole thing on a swivel mechanism — if it is to extend its effects into a larger region. You might need a waterproof HMD too if you spend too long in a misty environment.
The project is called “AOES” and carries the title “Enhancing Teleportation Experience In Immersive Environments With Mid-Air Haptics.” If you are at SIGGRAPH, it is in the Emerging Technologies area.
While SIGGRAPH is a showcase for many projects that might never actually become real products, the ideas shared here often inspire creators to envision new ways of making technologies more compelling or affordable for mass consumption. I for one would love to see this technology used at an IMAX VR center.