We have seen virtual reality and augmented reality companies try to give users a way to smell and touch while in an immersive experience. These haptic feedback devices have helped to make VR experiences more “real.” A startup company is shifting the focus to make experiences more thermal.

Incorporating fluctuations in temperature works through the use of thermoelectric hardware. A slim, flexible thermoelectric device can heat up or cool down, covering a temperature range of 4 to 40 degrees Celsius very fast. It can also produce both hot and cold zones on the same surface, enabling a simulation of the feel of a pinch on one’s skin.

The device works when an electric current goes through a thermoelectric semiconductor, which would create a heat flow between the top and bottom substrate layers, making it act like a heater or cooler. The reverse process can be used for harvesting waste heat through a temperature difference applied to the semiconductor, which induces a current flow causing the device to act as a power generator. This is called the Seeback effect.

The thermoelectric device is made of a flexible material instead of using ceramic, allowing it to be incorporated into gaming equipment like joysticks. By adding fluctuating temperatures to VR and AR, these devices bring another level of reality to the virtual world.

Written by IEEE on July 25, 2017