For a semester project, my school set up a partnership with BigBen Interactive, a French company founded in 1981 and specialized in video games accessories and video games supply in Europe. This company created Nacon, a gaming accessories brand. BigBen work with Sony to create the PS4 Nacon Revolution Pro controller. Since Sony released the PSVR, BigBen asked us to think about the VR controller, in the future.
This project was a collaboration between an industrial design student (me) and a VR student.
A new way of interacting
We had to redefine interaction modalities that come up through the democratization of Virtual Reality in homes. Our product had to be adapted for the PS4, one-hand playable and made for a household purpose. When you play to VR games, you are kind of disconnected from reality. Our idea was to reduce this gap between reality in VR through haptic feedback.
Our main target were contemplative / adventure games in which you are exposed to different interactions with your environment. During the Laval Virtual 2017 event, we tried Ultrahaptics, a technology based on haptic feedback using ultrasound.
This gave us the feeling of touching 3D models through air friction. We decided to use this kind of feedback to improve the VR experience and the feeling of freedom. We started to work on ergonomics to find out the best way to achieve this feedback experience.
Ergonomic thinking around hands
The shape of the controller is optimized for the ultrasonic haptic feedbacks. The hand is surrounded by the ultrasonic transmitters while maintaining the hand gesture freedom. The hand can be opened and the controller will stay in place.
The VR controller is one-handed usable. In each hand controller there is one joystick, two of the four traditional PlayStation button and one trigger. Only the thumb and the index finger are used in order to maintain hand gesture freedom. Opened or closed hand, the buttons are reachable. The controller model is 3D printed and coated with sealant.
Building a prototype
Images explain, prototypes prove. The final product is a controller that embeds ultrasonic components. The prototype was made using a HTC Vive controller, four small fans connected to an Arduino board and two batteries.
The fans were fixed on the inside of a cylinder in which you will place your hand to feel the friction. We chose four different interactions for the demo. For each interaction with the VR world, the friction feedback will be different, using the fans.
We built a VR adventure game connected to the fans to let employees from BigBen try our prototype. The game was the succession of the four above interactions. There were visual cues or each spot to let the player know where to go / interact (using the Vive controller).
The goal of the game is to find a treasure. You will be in really different and unexpected situations to show the potential of Friction. Feeling the air when you are falling down is really surprising and immersive, even if the fans are not powerful enough.
Bringing tangible to VR
The assumption is that in the future the ultra haptics technology will be miniaturize and should be easily put in small embedded system. We also imagine thermic feedbacks in addition to the ultrasonic feedbacks.
Even if the fans are not powerful and they can not deliver spontaneous air, they work pretty well since they are connected with what is happening in the game. Our brain understands that some air is frictionning our hands when we are driving hand it feels more real.
After user testing we realized that those feedback need to be more detailed. It feels more real but we still do not have the feeling of swimming for instance. That means increasing the number feedback sources (four fans were not enough at all).
Working with BigBen was a big opportunity to think about the use and technology of the VR controller of tomorrow with professionals of this field. We were able to interact with them throughout the design process. It is really exciting to be part of the VR revolution.