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The “universal law of touch” can help make VR indistinguishable from reality

Scientists have used seismic waves to create a universal scaling of the sense of touch, paving the way for hyper-realistic virtual reality.

The “universal law of touch” theory was developed by researchers at the University of Birmingham who used mathematical modeling of touch receptors in humans and other animal species.

“Touch is a primitive 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 understandable,” said Dr. Tom Montenegro-Johnson of the Birmingham Mathematical High School. leads the study.

“Although we have universal laws to explain sight and hearing, for example, for the first time we are able to explain touch in this way.”


Dr. Montenegro-Johnson’s team is studying a type of seismic wave known as Rayleigh waves, which is created by the impact of two objects.

Applying the mathematics of earthquakes to model how vibrations pass through the skin, the team found that vibration receptors under the skin respond to Rayleigh waves in the same way, regardless of age, gender, or even species.

“The principles we have defined allow us to better understand the different experiences of touch among a wide range of species,” said co-author James Andrews.

“For example, if you gave the rhinoceros skin 5 mm, they would feel the same as a person with a similar indentation – just the forces needed to create the indentation would be different.”

The universal law is outlined in a study published in the journal Scientific progress.

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Researchers at the University of Birmingham are part of the European consortium H-Reality, which already uses the theory to develop next-generation VR technologies.

The group’s ambition is to “fill virtual objects with a physical presence, providing a revolutionary, unbound, virtual-haptic reality.”

This is one of several efforts to create digital worlds that feel indistinguishable from reality, with the Bristol-based Ultraleap launch creating hardware feedback hardware capable of simulating a virtual touch.

Applications range from video games and chat rooms to remote surgical and industrial settings that allow workers to remotely control dangerous machines.

But perhaps the most ambitious application is to create virtual reality worlds that feel as realistic as the real world.

The advent of such technology has fueled the debate over humanity’s perception and current understanding of reality.

Theoretical physicists and philosophers suggest that we live in a Matrix-style computer simulation, citing the speed of technological progress and the rapid pace of video game improvement.

Simulating an entire universe within a VR simulation will require enormous computing power(Getty Images / iStockphoto)

One of the most vocal supporters of this simulation theory is Elon Musk, who in 2016 claimed that there is a 99.99% chance that the universe we inhabit is a computer simulation.

“Forty years ago we had a pong – two rectangles and a dot. We now have photorealistic, 3D simulations with millions of people playing at the same time and getting better every year, ”said the head of Tesla, SpaceX and Neuralink.

“If you accept any pace of improvement at all, then the games will become indistinguishable from reality, just indistinguishable.”

A 2017 research paper seems to dispel this idea, after researchers at Oxford University calculated that storing data for such a simulation on a classic computer “would require memory made up of more atoms than there are in the universe.”

The study does not rule out the possibility that large-scale simulations can be supported by super-powerful quantum computers.

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