Game pads and sticks let players exert their control over the virtual worlds of whatever games they happen to be playing, but engineers from the University of Utah want them to do more, so they built one that has a larger role.
Resembling Microsoft's Xbox or Sony's PlayStation controller, the newcomer features some modifications to the thumb joysticks.
The middle has a round, red “tactor” which tries to mimic whatever the game avatar feels at any given time.
As such, if the player character were to walk into a wall for some reason, the tactor would move back to mimic the impact.
Going by the same principle, it is possible to simulate the bend and tension on a fishing line.
What's more, in games where the left thumb stick controls motion and the right handles viewpoint and aim, the player can use the left stick to push a soldier forward in a crawl and feel the tactor tugging back and forth under both thumbs, in concert with the movement of the arms as they are used to drag one's self forward.
The researchers basically want to make the controller simulate as many touch sensations as possible, down to ocean waves, the tug of a steering wheel, etc.
“I’m hoping we can get this into production when the next game consoles come out in a couple of years,” says William Provancher, an associate professor of mechanical engineering, while demonstrating the item in Vancouver, British Columbia (March 5-7, 2012).
“We have developed feedback modes that enhance immersiveness and realism for gaming scenarios such as collision, recoil from a gun, the feeling of being pushed by ocean waves or crawling prone in a first-person shooter game.”
Currently, the team is concentrating on skin-stretch feedback and how to synchronize or combine it with sounds, sights and vibrations. Check out the video below for an introduction into the cues and desired responses.