Haptic VR balloons are now a thing & they actually work

Rosalie Newcombe
'Woman Using Virtual Reality Goggles' image by fauxels on pexels.com, with the image of a purple balloon by Deeana Arts on top.

College students have developed a new form of haptic feedback for VR gaming using inflatable robot balloons.

Haptic technology isn’t new when it comes to gaming tech. For decades, game controllers have contained vibration-haptic features. Controllers like the PS5’s DualSense have only improved on the tech, adding new layers of immersion by replicating the feel of falling rain or the tightness of a bowstring.

With VR gaming becoming increasingly popular with devices like the Quest 3, it was only a matter of time before haptics would be more utilized in the virtual-reality gaming space. Now, university students have developed a new form of VR haptics, with shape-changing inflatable robots.

Students of the University of Calgary, Canada, and Tohoku Unversity of Sendai, Japan have created “InflatableBots”, inflatable shape-changing robots that can change height and position to provide a new form of haptics for VR.

Presented in a video by student Ryota Gomi, the “shape-changing” InflatableBots are made up of omnidirectional robots with fan-based inflatable structures. These structures can inflate from 15 to 200 inches at a rate of 4 inches per second, to create multiple “touch-points.”

The abstract of the student’s paper on the InflatableBots explains, “Unlike traditional inflatable shape displays, which are immobile and limited in interaction areas, our approach combines mobile robots with fan-based inflatable structures. This enables safe, scalable, and deployable haptic interactions on a large scale.”

Screenshot from the video for the project on 'InflatableBots: Inflatable Shape-Changing Mobile Robots for Large-Scale Encountered-Type Haptics in VR.'

Throughout the footage, shared onto X/Twitter by user Lukas Zeigler, students behind the genius InflatableBots can be seen showing off the brand-new tech. Whether it’s replicating the height of a staircase, the hit of a drumkit, or even the head of a pack of adorable dogs, the InflatableBots provide a physical object to touch, to aid immersion and create a new form of VR haptic tech.

Sadly, you cannot pick up these InflatableBots for yourself. The mesmerizing new haptic tech was created as part of a project, and supporting paper, for ‘The ACM CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems.’ However, with VR gaming on the up, there are still new headsets and advances in the space to come.