Ultrasound panel adds mid-air haptic feedback to VR

Haptic feedback can give games and other virtual experiences an extra dimension, but it’s hard to achieve. Tech startup Emerge is now having a crack at the idea with the Emerge Wave-1, a device that pairs with a VR headset and emits ultrasonic waves that let users feel virtual objects and sensations.

The Emerge Wave-1 is a panel measuring 10.25 x 11.75 in (26 x 29.8 cm) that sits on a table and projects a 3D volume of ultrasound into the air above it. When you hold your hands over the device, you can feel this force as tactile points, which extend as far as 3 ft (0.9 m) above the panel and spread 120 degrees around it.

The idea is that this haptic feedback should map to virtual objects you’re seeing through the VR headset, the Meta Quest 2 (formerly Oculus). The Wave-1 system syncs up to the Emerge Home app, which will include a range of games and social apps specially made for the system.

None of the apps need any controllers besides the player’s own hands, which are tracked through the Meta Quest 2’s hand tracking sensors. The glimpses of the games so far look like users will be blasting asteroids with energy beams, spraying water on farm animals, or bouncing balls around a big pinball-like arena, with all of those actions accompanied by force feedback on the hands.

The Emerge Wave-1 device itself is a flat rectangle that sits on a table, where users can hover their hands over it
The Emerge Wave-1 device itself is a flat rectangle that sits on a table, where users can hover their hands over it


The social apps look like the usual schlock that’s mocked up for board meetings to get investors to throw money at this ill-defined “metaverse” hokum – think avatars sitting around a virtual room, chatting. But the company says the Emerge Wave-1 lets users actually feel each other when shaking hands or giving high-fives.

Haptics are definitely an intriguing area of VR that remains largely unexplored, and the Emerge Wave-1 seems to be one of the first consumer-ready devices to hit the market. But it does look like it has its limitations.

For one, the ultrasonic waves are only coming from one direction, which would presumably limit the range of tactile sensations on offer. It seems like you’d have to keep your hands flat to feel the full force, and there are only so many gameplay options that can provide. We’re not even sure how Emerge’s own handshake or high-five examples would work from that angle.

That said, we haven’t actually tried this thing for ourselves, so we can’t vouch for how good the tactile sensations may or may not be.

The other issue we can foresee is that the experiences are locked to Emerge’s own app ecosystem. If you’re spending hundreds of dollars on a piece of hardware, you’ll want a guarantee that there will be plenty of software to actually use it with, beyond a few minigames and a virtual hangout space. If it could somehow work with the wider library of the Quest system, it would be a much easier sell.

Still, it’s a very interesting idea based on tech that’s been percolating for years, and we’d love to see how well it fares.

Emerge is currently seeking funding for the Wave-1 and Home system on Kickstarter, where the project has currently raised over US$50,000 of its $200,000 goal with 35 days remaining. Pledges start at $450, with shipping due in either April or September, depending on the selected tier.

Check out the Emerge Wave-1 in action in the video below.

Feel VR with your bare hands | Emerge Kickstarter Launch Ad

Source: PR Newswire

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