The untapped senses of touch, taste, smell in the world of virtual reality are presenting intriguing breakthroughs in technological designs.
Contributed By Yong Yung Shin
Ten years ago, when Associate Professor Adrian Cheok took on a project from the Defence Science and Technology Agency to design wearable computers to help soldiers find their way in the battlefield, he found himself staring at a whole new world of possibilities afforded by augmented reality—the merging of the physical and virtual world through technology.
These days, Cheok, who works in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the National University of Singapore, is also busy heading up the Mixed Reality Lab as its director.
“Mixed reality is about the merging of all our senses, not only in terms of computer games but in how we communicate with one another. We are now living in the age of unlimited information; what will be the next step? We think it will be the age of experience communication, where we convey not just information but our presence and real experiences,” said Cheok. He was speaking at the monthly U@live event at the Shaw Foundation Alumni House on Feb. 17 about the inevitable change that will be brought about by round-the-clock, real-time global communication, addressing the effects of the digital exponential revolution on society.
“So it got me thinking about the sense of touch—touch is such an important aspect of human communication,” he said. One of the projects to have emerged from the lab is a novel creation called the Huggy Pajama, a wearable system aiming to bridge the physical gap between parents and their children; the parent first applies pressure on a small doll with an embedded pressure sensing circuit, which sends “hug signals” to a special jacket worn by the child and reproduces the parent’s hug—there are even heating elements to simulate the warmth that accompanies the hug.
But the Mixed Reality Lab also strives to inject social value into its works. Another project, the Age Invaders, is a social physical game which allows elderly players to interact with young children in a shared physical space by adjusting the game’s parameters. For example, older players have more time to react to slow rockets fired by young opponents; conversely, young players have to react to much faster ones launched by the older opponents. Thus, the playing field is leveled to compensate for the differing levels of agility between generations.
U@live (pronounced “U-alive”) is a monthly forum showcasing members of the NUS community who are championing causes for the betterment of society. Log on to www.nus.edu.sg/ualive for more information.