What the Heck is Ultrasonics? How They'll Make VR Better

Stop looking at me with that vacant stare, I’ll explain what ultrasonics are: they are sound pressure waves that can’t be heard by humans because of their high pitch. OK, so you’re drooling now… let me make it a bit simpler: you know the creepy black and white photos pregnant ladies show everyone of their yet unborn spawn? That’s ultrasonics basically. How will it make virtual reality amazing? Well, you’re going to have to read ahead a bit.

Ultrasonics Have Been with Us for a While

As I mentioned above, the medical industry has been using ultrasonics, ultrasounds or sonograms for years. It’s primarily used as an imaging tool where MRI and X-rays are too dangerous. It’s used by animals to navigate and echolocate obstacles and food. Bats and porpoises both use ultrasonics for communication (not between themselves, dum-dum) and the location of food. In industrial applications, it is used to accelerate chemical reactions, for mixing and cleaning. It is said that some younger people can actually hear ultrasounds or ultrasonics, but this ability is lost with the deterioration of hearing with age. This brings us to the second best application of ultrasonics.

The Mosquito

This device emits high frequency ultrasound that can only be heard by younger people. Its use actually created quite a controversy because there is a very large group of shop owners around the world that use The Mosquito to deter youth loitering around their establishments. The controversy revolves around the fact that The Mosquito is discriminatory only towards younger people. Some even went as far as calling it a ‘sonic energy weapon’ and a breach of human rights. I guess the next generation won’t know what it’s like to hang out in a dank garbage-smelling alley behind a convenience store; what a travesty! What a tragic infringment of rights! What an infuriating lack of sensitivity!

About VR and Ultrasonics

OK, so back to the subject you came here for: how ultrasonics can augment VR. Well, what if I told you that they can create a haptic or tactile experience? Come on, man! Don’t you even know what that is?! You will be able to touch and grab stuff. Yes, sigh, and squeeze, you dirty perv. Basically, the ultrasonic waves will be able to ‘sculpt’ in mid-air anything you might see in your VR head set. So, say you’re a medical doctor in training, a virtual surgery set up with a VR headset and ultrasonic capabilities allow you to feel what that right method should feel like. If it’s combined with other virtual reality components (such as the VR Omni, a device which allows you to walk around a virtual environment) it could offer lifesaving training to police officers and soldiers. It could even put them in real-life scenarios helping them know how to act in extreme circumstances.

Further Implementations

Gaming, of course. Can you imagine playing an exploration game and feeling the rough surface of a rock face or the cool smooth surface of the object you just recovered from the bad guys? Yes, not only will it be able to replicate objects, it will also be able to replicate textures. The company behind the technology promises that this isn’t even the beginning. They say that in only 4 years’ time they should have the ability for a full environment haptic system. I’m pretty sure we are going to look like complete idiots by 2020 pawing at the air, while sliding around on a huge black plate with a big bulky VR helmet bobbing precariously on our head. But at least we’ll have fun doing it.

Does this sound like technology that you would like to use? Let us know in the comment section below.




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