Would you like to experience the thrill of jumping into the void from an airplane or being lifted into the air by a tornado, without moving a single metre? Of course, said so...
Researcher Pedro Lopes and his team at the University of Chicago created JumpMod, a mechanical backpack that could change the way we experience virtual reality forever.
Often, bulky and expensive devices not suitable for home use are used to simulate forces acting on the body in VR, such as those felt in a race car or on a roller coaster. JumpMod uses our perception to create the illusion of being pulled up or down, without the need for large machinery.
In a nutshell, it does for VR what the personal computer did in the 70s with large computers: it reduces, simplifies, lightens. And it spreads (or at least it could).
How JumpMod works
The virtual jump backpack features a weight of just 2kg that moves rapidly up and down to create different sensations.
In one of the demo VR games that are part of the first study (I link it here), players can collect tokens that allow them to jump higher and overcome obstacles: thanks to JumpMod, the weight of the backpack moves upwards as the user leaves the ground: the sensation is that of a faster jump higher than normal.
At another time, players must squash a pumpkin with a jump. By moving your weight down as you "land," JumpMod feels like you're hitting the ground harder. At the end of the game, the player is lifted by a bird and the weight in the backpack lowers to simulate the sensation of being lifted into the air.
The leap into a future of more realistic VR
As VR technology evolves and new levels of realism are added, such as the perception of touch and temperature, JumpMod could be the beginning of a new era for immersivity.
If we wanted to widen the radius, such an instrument could be of help for motor rehabilitation, but let's fly lower: just think of the innumerable possibilities: with the JumpMod backpack worn, we could make a leap into the virtual reality without ever leaving the warmth of our home. Whistle, what a cringe ending.