PropelWalker: A Leg-based Wearable System with Propeller-based Force Feedback for Walking in Fluids in VR

There have been increasing focus on haptic interfaces for VR, to support high-quality touch experience. However, it is still challenging to haptically simulate the real-world walking experience in different fluid mediums. To tackle this problem, we present PropelWalker, a pair of calf-worn haptic devices for simulating the buoyancy and the resistant force when the human’s lower limbs are interacting with different fluids and materials in virtual reality (VR). By using four ducted fans, two installed on each calf, the system can control the strength and the direction of the airflow in real time to provide different levels of forces. Our technical evaluation shows that PropelWalker can generate the vertical forces up to 27N in two directions (i.e., upward and downward) within 0.85 seconds. Furthermore, the system can stably maintain the generated force with minor turbulence. We further conducted three user-perception studies to understand the capability of PropelWalker on generating distinguishable force stimuli. Firstly, we conducted the just-noticeable-difference (JND) experiments to investigate the threshold of the human perception of on-leg air-flow force feedback. Our second perception study showed that users could distinguish four PropelWalker-generated force levels for simulating different walking mediums (i.e., dry ground, water, mud, and sand), with the average accuracy of 94.2%. Lastly, our VR user study showed that PropelWalker could significantly improve the users’ sense of presence in VR.

Authors: Pingchuan Ke, Shaoyu Cai, Haichen Gao, and Kening Zhu