Axon VR promises real haptic feedback for your sojourns into virtual reality

Have you ever wanted to feel a dragon breathe on your wrist? A tiny reindeer paw at your palm? A virtual robot skitter up your arm and burrow into your chest? Axon VR is about to let you.

IEEE Spectrum’s Evan Ackerman checked out the Axon VR device at CES a few weeks ago and it looks like the sleeper hit of the show given how little it was covered and how amazing it looks.

The box, a prototype, basically makes you feel what is happening in VT. It’s like the Bene Gesserit Pain Box without all of the burning and can recreate onscreen action with heat, cold, and puffs of air. You put your hand into it and you can feel apples, heat, and little deer. IEEE editor Amy Nordrum writes:

I poke an apple and bring it over to drop it on my left hand. Immediately, I feel the familiar shape of an apple in my hand. It’s round and smooth on every side, just like it looks. Neat.

Next, I select a nondescript cube and place it in my palm. I feel its slight weight. Then, it starts to change colors. First it’s red, and my hand feels warmer. Then it’s blue and my hand is cooler. The change in color and the change in sensation happens simultaneously. I wasn’t expecting to feel a temperature gradient through this haptic VR system, and it’s a pleasant surprise….

Then, the deer starts to lay down. Its legs fold up beneath it and its furry belly rests in the center of my palm. I can feel it breathe, and the spot on my hand where it’s resting starts to warm. The experience of holding a tiny deer in my hand and feeling its hooves is a neat trick, but the ability to actually feel it breathe and sense the warmth of its furry body brings on an entirely different dimension of emotion. It feels like my pet, and I want to keep it.

“The resolution of the tactile sensations was spectacular, from the edges of a cube, to the roundness of an apple, to the tiny prancing hooves of the deer,” wrote Ackerman. Interestingly the team is also working on walking systems that simulate going up stairs and physical feedback systems embedded onto flat surfaces.

Obviously this technology is a long ways off and the current demonstration hardware looks like a mainframe tape drive or a piece of ENIAC. However we can imagine that this sort of haptic system will soon be easier to use and smaller and, if it isn’t, direct neural stimulation could be the answer. It’s a fascinating new technology that we seem to have ignored and could be one of the coolest upcoming VR solutions ever. Here’s hoping we all get to feel tiny deer feet on our palms.