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Haptics | Ready Player One and the future of VR

Richard Hayden, Product Manager, on how Ready Player One instinctively recognises the central importance of haptics in creating immersion.

Stephen Spielberg’s Ready Player One has shot haptics into the mainstream. The movie (based on Ernest Cline’s 2011 novel, which I’ve only read nine times) has made, to date, over $400 million worldwide.

That’s getting on for 100 million people who’ve been introduced to a world in which haptic VR tech is ubiquitous and consumer-grade.

Playing spot-the-difference between the haptic tech in the movie and what’s on the market today has been something of a spectator sport over the last few weeks. But beyond that, what’s important about Ready Player One is the way it instinctively recognises the central importance of haptics.

Haptics in Ready Player One

For any benighted souls out there who haven’t experienced it, Ready Player One is set in a future where almost everyone spends most of their time in the OASIS, a massively multiplayer VR game that has become far more than just that. And, as we find out early on, accessing the OASIS is dependent on two critical pieces of hardware.

One is, of course, a VR headset. The other is a pair of haptic gloves.

The haptic gloves are entry-level. Later on, our protagonist, Wade, upgrades to a big-ticket full-body haptic suit. (There’s even an unboxing moment.)

Even further up the range, bad-guy IOI boss Nolan Sorrento’s key status symbol is his elaborate, gold haptic rig. It’s not explained precisely how he can move around in VR given that he sits in it, but we’ll ignore that for the moment.

Man in VR headset all in white


No matter what type of tech users have, the profound immersion, sense of presence and intuitive interaction that make the OASIS utterly compelling are as dependent on haptics providing touch as they are on the VR headsets providing audio-visuals.

Every time someone picks up a virtual weapon in the OASIS as though it were a real-world object, they’re relying on haptics. Think of what happens in the real world. When you pick up an object, it’s sight that directs your hand to the right place – but it’s your sense of touch that allows you to grip it and pick it up.

Every time a character walks, runs or fights in the OASIS, they’re relying on haptics – a combination of tactile feedback and proprioception (the sense of the position of our bodies in space). It’s these combined with vision that create a deep sense of presence.

And when users connect with each other in the OASIS, they’re relying on haptics. (“Can you feel this?” Art3mis slyly asks Wade, stroking his arm and wondering what sort of haptic tech he’s packing.)

The sensations Wade gets from his haptic suit in this sequence are, let’s say, somewhat tongue-in-cheek. But we know, in the real world, touch is fundamental to social communication and emotional connection.

Ready Player One video | Interactive Digital Movie Posters with Barco and Ultrahaptics

The haptic technology of tomorrow

Ready Player One’s vision of the future of VR makes complete sense to anyone working in haptics. Its vision of what the tech that delivers this will look like, however, is more speculative.

It’s easy to see the VR headsets in Ready Player One as an evolution of today’s Oculus or Vive. The haptic gloves, suits and rigs, however, are projected much further out. Indeed, wearables and rigs are not going to be the whole answer (though they will undoubtedly play a large part).

At Digital Signage Expo in Las Vegas back in March, Ultrahaptics revealed an interactive haptic poster (AVH) for none other than Ready Player One. The poster used ultrasound to create the sensation of touch in mid-air in front of the screen and transformed the Ready Player One logo into a mini, retro arcade game.

That tech was arguably more sophisticated than anything displayed in the movie – because you can feel it with your bare hands.

If you’d like to explore a new type of haptics that doesn’t rely on wearables, contact us. (Although if your name is Nolan Sorrento, we might say no.)

Richard Hayden is a futurist with a passion for game design and people-centred product development.

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