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Walking on the moon or ocean floor may be possible for scores of people around the world, thanks to a new virtual reality walking system created by a team of scientists.
A research team consisting of Professor Michiteru Kitazaki from the Toyohashi University of Technology, Associate Professor Tomohiro Amemiya from the University of Tokyo, and Professor Yasushi Ikei from Tokyo Metropolitan University developed a VR walking system that records the sounds of a person walking and replays it with vision and foot vibrations.
The VR system can create the experience of walking in distance places or enable people who have a disability to experience what it's like to walk. The work was published in journal Sage.
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Walking on the moon could be a VR reality someday
"We would like to develop the virtual reality system further, enabling people to walk on strange places such as the Moon or the ocean bottom, and possibly improving the quality of life of people who have walking disabilities," Professor Michiteru Kitazaki, a perceptual psychologist at the Toyohashi University of Technology said in a press release highlighting the work. "This research is the first step to achieving these goals."
Creating a VR-based walking system proved challenging for the researchers since walking involves serval sensations including vision, hearing, and touch. It also involves motor commands and actions. To overcome the problem, the researchers focused on including vision and foot vibration in their system as those two are critical for being able to walk. The recording system captured the oscillating optic flow of a person walking and recorded the timing of feet striking the ground. The system has a head-mounted display and four vibrators that were attached to the heels and forefeet.
Tactical stimulation can enhance the walking sensation in VR
The researchers conducted psychological experiments to test its system and found it induced the sensation of self-motion, walking. leg action and telepresences. The researchers were able to confirm that tactical stimulation placed on the feet can enhance the virtual walking sensations.
"Tactile sensation on the foot-sole can induce a pseudo-walking sensation. The present research demonstrated the psychological evidence for this," said Associate Professor Tomohiro Amemiya, of the University of Tokyo. "The findings suggest that extension of the peripersonal space representation can be enabled by stimulating the soles in the absence of body action, which may automatically drive a motor programing in the brain for walking, leading to a change in spatial cognition around the body."