Although Samsung no longer pursues VR (virtual reality) and AR (augmented reality) applications through its Gear VR mobile head-mounted displays, the company continues to do research & development and advance VR and AR technologies behind closed doors. In a recent paper, Samsung Electronics revealed an ambitious AR/VR project that leverages compact artificial muscle actuators to enable fast image focus in AR/VR and tactile feedback for VR controllers.
Two of the biggest barriers to VR/AR immersion are the lack of variable focus and tactile feedback. An image rendered inside a VR headset does not change focus between objects according to the user’s line of sight. Similarly, VR and AR controllers lack the tactile feedback depth and versatility to trick users into thinking that virtual objects they might happen to interact with have weight to them.
When using VR or AR headsets, there’s a disconnect between what the eye sees and what the human body feels — and how the brain translates those interactions and discrepancies between senses. But Samsung may have come up with a solution to overcome these barriers and elevate immersion by using artificial muscle actuators in its future VR/AR headsets.
Samsung to use artificial muscle actuators for VR and AR
Samsung’s engineers have created a lightweight, high-power Compliant Amplified SMA Actuator (CASA) using Shape Memory Allow (SMA). These actuators weigh only 0.22 grams but have a maximum actuation strain of 300% under 80 grams of external payload. In translation, Samsung’s artificial muscle actuators can lift payloads 800 times heavier than their weight.
The technology described by Samsung in a new Nature Communications paper achieves variable focus in a mixed reality helmet using these fast, powerful, and lightweight actuators that can minimize the lag between the user’s shift in focus and whatever is happening on the screen.
Furthermore, Samsung explained how these modules with incredible power-to-weight ratios generate credible tactile feedback for VR/AR controllers. Haptic gloves employing Samsung’s actuators could recreate a sense of variable pressure on the wearer’s hands and/or fingertips.
It all sounds very futuristic. The promise of immersive VR and AR is quite appealing, but there is no information regarding availability and when this technology might be ready for use in Samsung consumer devices.