Being an Industrial Designer, part of my job with R2FACT involves applying the concepts of ergonomics to my designs to create products that not only look great but feel great in the hands too. How a user will interact with a physical product greatly influences its overall design. But what if a product was only a projected image?
One of the latest trends in technology, Virtual Reality, creates simulated visual worlds that look real. With recent advancements in computer simulated graphics and displays, the look of virtual reality may be closer to real than ever before. The Occulus Rift headset developed by parent company Occulus VR, designed to provide a more immersive video gaming experience, further enhances the sense of “being there.” The device performs accurate head tracking which helps create the illusion that you are actually looking around inside a virtual world. Occulus VR was recently purchased by Facebook which will no doubt open the experience to an ever wider range of people.
As an industrial designer at R2FACT concerned with the feel as well as the look of products I wonder if it would be possible to add the sense of touch to the illusion. Realistic head tracking is a huge contributor to feeling immersed in a virtual world but to truly feel like you are inside that world you’ll need to have all your senses represented. The most important to immersion is touch.
According to Wikipedia, “Haptic technology, or haptics, is a tactile feedback technology which recreates the sense of touch by applying forces, vibrations, or motions to the user.” Perhaps it will evolve in the consumer market to the point where you can use your own hands to interact with virtual objects inside of a virtual reality? The next question is whether these interactive virtual objects will conform to the principles of user-friendly ergonomics.
From my experience at R2FACT, when a consumer interacts with a hand held product their first comments often deal with how comfortable the object is in the hand. I strongly believe that in order to fully realize the concept of a tactile virtual reality there will be a need for virtual ergonomics. You can use the most powerful computer graphics to perfectly imitate what the real world looks like but none of that will keep you immersed if you can’t reach out and touch your surroundings in a friendly and comfortable way.