When someone talks about “gaming”, 9 out of 10 times it amounts to wasting time. But in the case of exoskeletons, exoskeletons for gaming is that one special case where we have to pay close attention.
While not the only application, most gaming exoskeletons aim to exert a reactive force on the user while they are using a virtual reality headset. It is the exact opposite of exoskeletons for teleoperation, which are only used to extract position and movement data from the user. What makes this exoskeleton application interesting is that this is the same direction in which medical and military exoskeletons are taking. Recent research from Brazil is showing that haptic feedback (applying force on the user) during gait rehabilitation had an important and noticeable impact on the rehabilitation quality. (see article) At the same time, military organizations are looking to build virtual reality simulators for troop training (for example, firing a cannon). In addition to being its own field, developments in exoskeletons for gaming could have a profound effect on medical and military exoskeletons.
Exoskeletons for gaming could also become a large subfield of commercial exoskeletons. Already, several companies have managed to line up hefty funding. Just a few weeks ago, ShackNews reported that Twitter’s Ex-CEO invested in AxonVR (link). AxonVR aims to develop a full exoskeleton that is suspended in the air and provides the appropriate resistance to make the user feel they are walking, swimming or interacting with objects. This is complicated but theoretically possible. For example, to swing a virtual axe, the player will have to feel resistance at the hands via a glove type exoskeleton. Additional resistance at the shoulders, elbows and a force on the leg and torso proportional to the weight of the virtual object and location relative to the user’s avatar can also be applied.
For now, gaming exoskeletons do not aim to simulate entire objects but just their effects. If a gamer is playing a first-person shooter then a vest could compress to simulate the player being hit. A power glove can be used to provide resistance when touching a virtual object. As everything else with gaming exoskeletons, their application is not limited to games. The same force feedback exoskeleton can be used for an artist controlling a robotic chisel to make a sculpture or a rehabilitation patient to become more immersed in their rehabilitation exercises.
A handful of examples of exoskeletons for VR:
- Dexmo exoskeleton glove: an exoskeleton glove that lets you “touch and feel” virtual reality. Link: engaget.com
- Manus developer kit, a soft exoskeleton glove for VR. Link: engaget.com
- AxonVR a full body VR exoskeleton: AxonSuit and AxonSkeleton. Link: axonvr.com
- Hypersuit VR, a horizontal table with arm end effector exos that simulates using a flying machine. Link: hypersuit.fr
- EXOS – glove interface for a virtual reality world. Link: roadtovr.com
Current VR technology?
The main type of VR glasses fall into two categories: cell phones attached to a holder on the head and specialized VR glasses. While the cell phone holders produce acceptable image quality, they are not readily integrated with peripheral devices and it is unlikely that they will ever be used with exoskeletons. Out of the specialized VR glasses, the two main players in the U.S. are the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive.
It must be emphasized how important it is to personally try VR technology. Even after reading and watching videos on the subject, you will be caught off guard as to how immersive this technology really is. The level of immersion is difficult to describe without experiencing it personally. Unlike controlling a virtual character in front of a screen, VR captures the user’s peripheral vision as well as their hearing. With two of the senses covered, this leaves out only the senses of smell, touch, and taste. There are already experiments that suggest a person’s mind can get completely fooled with a simulated sense of touch and smell. Exoskeletons for gaming, in the form of hard wearables or elegant soft exosuits will be used to provide a sense of touch in the VR world.
The perfect merger between VR and Exos
Another aspect of gaming exoskeletons is that they are at the intersection point between the fields of virtual reality and exoskeleton technology. Many medical rehabilitation exoskeletons now use VR, but the VR is a second fiddle to the rehabilitation program. On the other end of the spectrum, most VR is open sourced and the next two years is projected to see an explosion of applications. By providing developer kits, the VR companies want to get as many developers involved in a short amount of time. There are now game developers looking for exoskeleton devices to further immerse players in the gaming experience and exoskeleton developers learning about gaming to provide a more immersive experience for their users. It is only a matter of time before these two fields meet and collaborate.
More than meets the eye?
At this point, exoskeleton systems for virtual reality tailored to gaming are a tiny, nearly insignificant part of the exoskeleton industry. However, at the current direction of exoskeleton development, they could become the most proliferated devices in the exoskeleton industry.