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The Environmental Benefits of Tactile Virtual Reality: Reducing Waste Through Digital Experiences

Virtual Reality has risen so fast, and had such a significant impact on our lives, that it is now difficult to remember a time when we didn’t have it. With relatively low-cost technology and increasingly good graphics packages, VR has become a major factor in a number of industries and is growing in both scope and abilities. We are already living in a world where VR is not only a major gaming input but has been adopted into a number of different industries as a tool to assist with a wide range of tasks. The life-like worlds that can be created in VR are helping train out some of the most difficult and exacting tasks that cannot be performed in a normal way, such as surgical procedures and nuclear power station emergency situations. If it cannot be attained in real life, it certainly can in VR.

Many people are now recognising that VR is capable of offering far more than it does already and there is an entrepreneurial drive to use this valuable tool in ever more areas of life. As a testament to this, we are now seeing VR being used in areas where there isn’t any need from a safety point of view, or the situation is not likely to be unobtainable – such as with a fantasy or extreme gaming scenario. One of these areas is the industry that has grown up around waste management. The potential of virtual reality to enhance environmental sustainability and decrease waste is one of its less obvious but most important advantages. Virtual reality with a focus on tactile simulation of touch and physical sensations could make significant contributions to recycling and resource conservation. 

Tactile VR’s key potential for reducing waste is in its ability to facilitate the substitution of digital for physical goods. Take the fashion sector, which is well-known for its prodigious waste output due to its dependence on ever-changing trends and the ongoing need to produce new apparel items. Without the requirement for physical manufacture, tactile VR would allow customers to virtually try on clothing, feel the fabric, and even experience the sense of wearing the item. In addition to helping the environment, this would also reduce the quantity of rubbish caused by unwanted garments.

But VR is proving to be a powerful tool in the reduction of waste in the business supply route too. Industry generates a huge amount of waste through either the mis-purchasing of the wrong parts to scrappage due to specification drift. A company may believe that they are buying one thing and, on finding that the inbound order is not as expected, may scrap an entire shipment and reorder. By using VR tools to ensure that the parts that they order are correct before the purchase, a huge amount of scrap can be averted.

Modern VR tools are sufficiently accurate to be able to allow engineers and purchasers to ‘see’ parts and components as they would be in reality and make informed decisions on whether to go ahead with a purchase, and they are becoming even more powerful. However, this is truly enhanced by the use of tactile VR. The ability to feel and touch in a virtual environment is becoming increasingly important to developers, and by enhancing these sensations, the VR abilities suddenly gain a whole new perspective.  

Tactile virtual reality combines elements of both digital and physical reality to provide an immersive and engaging experience for the user. In this subfield of virtual reality, haptic skin is used to create the sensation of being touched. Visual and auditory cues that mimic skin sensations in the real world facilitate the formation of touch. Using electric actuators, hydraulics, and pneumatics for various devices, tactile VR creates sensations in the user that are strikingly comparable to those experienced when touching an actual object. Exos is a wearable haptic device that has been recently released by Exiii Inc. and that provides tactile feedback of various virtual things. By moving their muscles and tendons, the user is able to simulate the experience of touching virtual items.  While there are myriad applications for this kind of interaction, many industries are beginning to examine how this can be used to reduce the frightening amount of waste generated, and at the same time, boost profits.

According to a number of studies, the implementation of tactile virtual reality has the potential to play a role in the reduction of electronic waste. It is very conceivable that, as virtual reality technology continues to progress, an increasing number of electronic gadgets will be replaced by virtual substitutes. Users, for instance, may simply download virtual reality programs onto their already existing gadgets as an alternative to going out and acquiring traditional gaming consoles. This would not only save resources, but it would also cut down on the quantity of electrical waste produced by devices that have been thrown away every year.

But haptics and the ability to feel is increasingly being seen as far more than just an add on to the VR worlds we produce and is fast becoming an essential from a number of points of view. VR is about immersion, and immersive experiences are considered to be lacking if they don’t ‘feel’ right. Imagine taking a virtual tour to some of the world’s most desirable locations; if you can see and hear the environment, then it is a good experience, but if you can touch the obsidian of the pillars in an ancient temple, or feel the sand of a beach between your fingers, then the experience becomes a thousand times better.

But while helping tourists choose a potential holiday destination, virtual reality can also lessen tourism’s negative effects on the environment by allowing people to virtually see popular areas without having to actually go there. This would not only aid in the preservation of natural resources, but it would also cut down on carbon emissions caused by vehicles. In addition, VR can serve as a tool for environmental education by allowing users to experience the effects of climate change, deforestation, and other environmental difficulties in a very realistic setting.

Tactile virtual reality is an exciting development, and as the technology of both VR graphics and delivery, and the inclusion of tactile features grow, it is only going to get better. Look out for more on this exciting subject in future posts.