(Photo: Markus Tatzgern et al.)Virtual Reality (VR) developers have been hard at work recently figuring out ways to increase the immersion level of VR hardware. Since today’s VR kits are just a headset and handheld controllers, this has required hardware add-ons in some scenarios. The latest immersion-boosting add-on to come to VR is one we hadn’t anticipated (or asked for): The sensation of suffocating.
This harrowing experience is now possible thanks to the AirRes Mask (subscription required). It was designed by Markus Tatzgern and a team of researchers at Salzburg University of Applied Sciences in Austria according to Vrscout. It involves attaching a respirator to your face that’s connected to a resistance valve that controls the amount of air you can breathe. The device monitors your breathing, allowing you to interact with a VR environment with your breath. It’s all hooked up to a Meta Quest 2 headset, and can be used for a variety of, um, interesting VR experiences.
Though the idea of having one’s breathing restricted doesn’t sound like a party, it can be useful in certain scenarios. For example, the developers show it can be used to train firefighters. The AirRes mask is able to simulate “real time breathing resistance,” which is used in a simulated enclosed space. In the demo prepared by the researchers, the user must run through a cramped building putting out fires. When the fire is successfully extinguished, the valve rotates to allow more breathable air through.
Such a stressful situation is just one of many potential uses for this technology. The demo also showcases several lighthearted scenarios. They include blowing out the candles on a birthday cake and playing a harmonica. Conversely, the attached valve lets you inflate balloons with your breath. Zero resistance is provided when inhaling, and resistance is applied when filling the ballon with air. There’s also a 3rd person shooter game where you have to hold your breath to steady a pistol.
This is definitely a novel experience to have in VR. Although some of its intended uses sound rather unpleasant, we won’t deny it certainly sounds immersive. This project’s design notably flies in the face of what a team from Carnegie Mellon reported recently with its own VR invention. In describing its decision to create a VR system that interacts with a user’s mouth, the team said people don’t want their entire face covered. This lead that particular team to install a beamforming array of ultrasonic transducers under the headset. This leaves the user’s mouth open to experience the joy of brushing their teeth in VR. Or if they choose, to have a spider jump on their face and scurry around. Come to think of it, we’ll take the face mask, thank you very much.