Quest 2 Add-On increases VR immersion by making you suffocate

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(Photo: Markus Tatzgern et al.)
Virtual reality (VR) developers have been hard at work lately finding ways to increase the level of immersion in VR hardware. Since today’s VR kits are just a headset and handheld controllers, this required hardware add-ons in some scenarios. The final immersion-enhancing add-on coming to VR is one we didn’t expect (or ask for): the feeling of suffocation.

This harrowing experience is now possible with the AirRes mask (subscription required). It was designed by Markus Tatzgern and a team of researchers from Salzburg University of Applied Sciences in Austria according to Vrscout. It involves attaching a respirator to your face which is connected to a resistance valve which controls how much air you can breathe. The device monitors your breath, allowing you to interact with a VR environment with your breath. Everything is connected to a Meta Quest 2 headset and can be used for a variety of interesting VR experiences.

While the idea of ​​restricting your breathing doesn’t sound like a party, it can be useful in certain scenarios. For example, the developers show that it can be used to train firefighters. The AirRes mask is capable of simulating “real-time breathing resistance”, which is used in a simulated enclosed space. In the demo prepared by the researchers, the user has to walk through a cramped building to put out the fires. When the fire is successfully extinguished, the valve rotates to let in more breathable air.

Such a stressful situation is just one of many potential uses for this technology. The demo also features several lightweight scenarios. These include blowing out birthday cake candles and playing the harmonica. Conversely, the attached valve allows you to inflate balloons with your breath. No resistance is provided when inhaling and resistance is applied when filling the balloon with air. There’s also a 3rd person shooter where you have to hold your breath to steady a gun.

It’s definitely a new experience to have in VR. While some of its intended uses look rather nasty, we won’t deny that it certainly looks immersive. The design of this project notably goes against what a Carnegie Mellon team reported recently with their own VR invention. In describing its decision to create a VR system that interacts with a user’s mouth, the team said people don’t want their entire face covered. This led to this particular team installing an array of ultrasonic transducers under the helmet. This leaves the user’s mouth open to experience the joy of brushing their teeth in VR. Or if they choose, to pop a spider in their face and dash. Come to think of it, we’ll take the face mask, thank you very much.

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