Samsung is working on an experimental headphone project that could one day bring the "feel" of movement to virtual-reality gaming and programming through algorithms and electrical signals via a wearer's ears.
The Entrim 4D VR headphones project, an experimental effort in Samsung's C-Lab research unit, was unveiled at the South by Southwest (SXSW) event in Austin and announced by the company on March 14, along with two other experimental projects. The projects, which are all in the development stage, are being showcased to assess their market potential and to gather feedback from attendees at the annual technology and music festival.
The Entrim 4D headphones work in unison with a virtual-reality headset to give users an even more realistic VR experience by letting them "feel" what they are seeing on their VR headset, according to Samsung. By adding the sensation of feeling the action, the user can be immersed even more into the VR world on their screen.
The headphones work by "tricking" the part of the ear that regulates a person's balance and feelings of motion, according to Samsung.
Entrim 4D uses a combination of algorithms and Galvanic Vestibular Stimulation (GVS), which is "a safe and simple technique that sends specific electric messages to a nerve in the ear," the company said. The headphones then synchronize the wearer's body with the changing movements in the video content they are watching.
"Electrical signals—like the ones used to help restore balance in stroke patients—are delivered via headphones equipped with electrodes that correspond with movement data input by engineers," the company said.
Through the electrical signals, users feel as if they are a part of the on-screen action and are also able to sense direction and the speed of the movements they are immersed in at that moment.
The feeling is magnified even more when the headphones are paired with the research team's Drone FPV, which gathers data from the drone's motion sensors to give headphone and VR headset users the feeling that they are flying, according to Samsung.
"Virtual reality shouldn't be experienced only with the eyes," Steve Jung, creative leader of the project, said in a statement. "With Entrim 4D, we hope that people can experience VR the way it was meant to be—with their whole bodies."
The Entrim 4D team members, made up of hardware professionals, software engineers and biomedical engineering experts, have been conducting experiments on more than 1,500 people and developed 30 different movement patterns as part of the development of the headphones, the company said. The team is also at work to add more electrodes that would create a sense of rotational motion.
Headphones like the Entrim 4D device are also being eyed by the research team as a fix for one of the most reported and challenging problems of VR experiences—motion sickness. The simulated feeling of riding on a roller coaster or zooming around a race track can leave users nauseous, dizzy and prone to headaches, according to Samsung. Though the Entrim 4D headphones are still in development, researchers hope that they may offer a practical solution to the problem.
The other research projects Samsung unveiled at SXSW included Hum On, an app that transcribes hummed melodies into musical scores, and Waffle, a social media platform that enables collaborative content creation.
Hum On is essentially a musical translator that can be used by anyone to score, arrange and share hummed melodies in minutes. The songs can then be shared through social media or used as background music in videos or other projects. The app "utilizes analysis software to detect the pitch and duration of a user's voice, and machine learning to create a suitable accompaniment in the same way a musician considers melody and chords," according to Samsung.
Waffle, meanwhile, is a new content-sharing application that uses a waffle-inspired user interface to give users the ability to create their own feeds of content that can then be expanded by friends and others, according to Samsung.
"Waffle enables users to add their own perspective to someone else's content, and vice versa," Joseph Kim, creative leader of the project, said in a statement. "These doodles, images and messages converge into entirely new content."
Samsung's $100 Gear VR headset, which went on sale last fall, allows users to view video games, movies and more in immersive new ways, according to an earlier eWEEK story. The Samsung Gear VR is a consumer version of virtual-reality headsets made by Oculus. The Gear VR works with Samsung's most recent smartphone models, including the Galaxy Note 5, Galaxy S6 Edge+, S6 and S6 Edge—with their Super AMOLED displays giving users a richer virtual-reality experience. It will also work with the latest Samsung Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge smartphones.