If you were ever wondering what it's like to have spiders crawling into your mouth, new virtual reality (VR) technology can make it feel terrifyingly real for you.
Researchers in the United States have equipped a VR headset with so-called haptic technology that can render realistic sensations onto the user’s mouth.
That way, as you’re trying to zap mutant spiders in a VR game, you can actually feel them jump on your face and scurry across your lips.
The researchers at Carnegie Mellon University's Future Interfaces Group say the mouth is one of the most important body parts with tactile sensitivity - second only to the fingertips - and that haptics in VR should be expanded beyond handheld controllers.
So, they fitted a VR headset with a thin, compact, beam-forming array of ultrasonic transducers that focus airborne acoustic energy onto the lips and into the mouth.
Making VR more immersive
What users feel are mostly taps and vibrations on their lips, teeth and tongue. This can simulate things like raindrops, the mud that splatters your face when you run into a puddle, and even crawling critters.
Why, you ask? Companies are racing to make VR feel more realistic and engaging for users, by complementing headsets with haptic gloves, suits and add-ons that stimulate their other senses.
At CES in Vegas this year, Euronews Next tested a head-mounted display equipped with olfactory tech that lets users smell various elaborate scents - from freshly-picked roses to roasted marshmallows and the earthy smell of a forest path - while they're immersed in their VR experience.
Ultrasonic in-air haptics technology is not new, but the researchers at Carnegie Mellon University say they are the first to integrate the technology into a headset for use in the mouth.
In a gaming demo set in a haunted forest scenario, a player wearing the headset is shown tight-lipped and grimacing as virtual spiders crawl over their mouth.
In the game, the player must walk through spider webs to get to a small clearing. When they come face to face with a spider and shoot it with a flare gun, it explodes into goo that splashes (and somewhat horrifies) the user.
More real-world simulations allow users to feel sensations like sipping a drink, taking a puff of a cigarette or even brushing their teeth.
Most of the participants in the research reported that incorporating these sensations made their VR experience more immersive, and they felt more engaged in it.
The prototype add-on is currently 15mm thick and weighs 107g. The researchers are now working to make the tech lighter so it can be more easily integrated into consumer VR headsets, which on their own typically weigh over 500g.
For more on this story, watch the video in the media player above.