A mechanical backpack can enhance the feeling of jumping or falling in virtual reality by dragging a weight up or down.
Simulating forces on the body in virtual reality (VR), such as those you might feel in a roller coaster or a race car, often requires large and expensive hardware that is not suitable for home use.
Instead, pedro lopes at the University of Chicago and colleagues have developed a backpack, called JumpMod, that can create the sensation of being pulled up or down by altering the user’s sense of vertical momentum. “You can play a lot of tricks just by playing with perception, rather than physically having this massive infrastructure,” says Lopes.
To trick the brain, JumpMod detects in milliseconds the need to appear to jump or fall, then quickly moves a 2-kilogram weight up or down to achieve it.
Lopes and his colleagues used the device to create a variety of effects in a VR simulation. In one part of the game, players collected a token that allowed them to jump higher, helping them jump over a cow. By shifting the weight upwards when the player got off the ground, JumpMod made them feel like they were jumping higher.
In another scenario, players had to smash a pumpkin by jumping on it. By shifting the weight down as the player descended, JumpMod made it feel like they were landing harder.
At the end of the game, the player is lifted off the ground by a bird. The weight in the rucksack shifted down to give the impression of being lifted up.
Lopes presented the work at the Human Factors in Computing Systems conference in Hamburg, Germany on April 24. He says the system could also be used to train people to jump more efficiently through physical feedback.
This is a new VR accessory, but it would be good to see longer-term data on its use to rule out the novelty effect in initial studies, says Brendan Walker at Middlesex University in London. It could also be more ergonomically designed to avoid putting all the force through the backpack straps, he says.