Scientists used seismic waves to create a universal scaling for the sense of touch, paving the way for hyper-realistic virtual reality.
The “Universal Law of Touch” theory was created by researchers at the University of Birmingham, who used mathematical models of tactile receptors in humans and other animal species.
“Touch is a primal sense, as important to our ancient ancestors as it is to modern mammals, but it is also one of the most complex and therefore least understood,” said Dr. Tom Montenegro-Johnson of the University of Birmingham School of Mathematics, who led the research.
“Even though we have universal laws to explain sight and hearing, for example, this is the first time we̵
Dr Montenegro-Johnson’s team studied a type of seismic waves known as Rayleigh waves, which are created by the impact of two objects.
By applying earthquake math to model how vibrations travel through the skin, the team found that vibration receptors under the skin respond to Rayleigh waves the same way regardless of age, gender, or even species.
“The principles we have defined allow us to better understand the different contact experiences between a wide range of species,” said co-author James Andrews.
“For example, if you indent the skin of a 5mm rhino, they would feel the same as a human with a similar indentation – it’s just that the forces required to produce the indentation would be different.”
Universal law was outlined in a study published in the journal Scientific advances.
Researchers from the University of Birmingham are part of the European H-Reality consortium, which is already using the theory to develop the next generation VR technologies.
The group’s ambition is to “imbue virtual objects with a physical presence, providing a revolutionary, unconstrained, virtual-tactile reality”.
It’s one of many efforts to create digital worlds that feel indistinguishable from reality, with Bristol-based startup Ultraleap creating haptic feedback hardware that can simulate virtual touch.
Applications range from video games and chat rooms, to remote surgery and industrial setups that allow workers to remotely control dangerous machinery.
But probably the most ambitious application is the creation of virtual reality worlds that look as realistic as the real world.
The emergence of such technology has helped fuel the debate on humanity’s perception and current understanding of reality.
Theoretical physicists and philosophers have proposed that we are living in a Matrix-style computer simulation, citing the rate of technological advancement and rapid rate of improvement of video games.
One of the staunchest supporters of this simulation theory is Elon Musk, who in 2016 stated that there is a 99.99% probability that the universe we live in is a computer simulation.
“Forty years ago we had Pong: two rectangles and a point. We now have photorealistic 3D simulations with millions of people playing simultaneously and things get better every year, ”said the head of Tesla, SpaceX and Neuralink.
“If you assume any rate of improvement, the games will become indistinguishable from reality, simply indistinguishable.”
A 2017 the research paper seemed to dispel this idea, after Oxford University researchers calculated that storing data for such a simulation on a classical computer “would require memory built with more atoms than there are in the universe.”
The research did not rule out the possibility that large-scale simulations could potentially be supported by ultra-powerful quantum computers.