Researchers Create VR Headset That Sends Sensations to the Mouth, Lips and Tongue

This could get very weird very quick.

Imad Khan Senior Reporter
Imad is a senior reporter covering Google and internet culture. Hailing from Texas, Imad started his journalism career in 2013 and has amassed bylines with The New York Times, The Washington Post, ESPN, Tom's Guide and Wired, among others. He also hosts FTW with Imad Khan, an esports news podcast in association with Dot Esports.
Expertise Google, Internet Culture
Imad Khan
2 min read
A woman wearing a VR headset with an attachment that sends ultrasound impulses to her mouth

This virtual reality headset has an ultrasound phased array attached for mouth haptics.

Future Interfaces Group / Screengrab via YouTube

For those desiring better mouth feel when playing Resident Evil 4 on the Meta Quest 2, researchers may have found a solution.

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University's Future Interfaces Group have assembled a VR immersion tool that has an array of ultrasonic transducers sending acoustic energy to a user's mouth, creating haptic feedback. Ultrasound impulses can be sent to simulate a single tap, pulses, swipes and vibrations, according to the research, which was spotted earlier by Gizmodo. These vibrations can be felt on the teeth, tongue and lips.

The system doesn't require users to affix anything to their mouths for haptic feedback. "Consumers do not want to cover their entire face, let alone put something up against (or into) their mouth," the researchers noted on their website.

A video published Wednesday by the Future Interfaces Group demonstrates the VR headset with an ultrasonic array attached for mount haptics. One example includes a video game in which spiders would jump on a user's face, giving them the sensation that an arachnid is crawling over their lips. The user then can shoot the spider and experience its guts splat across their mouth.  

Less fantastical examples simulate the feel of drinking water from a water fountain, smoking a cigarette and brushing teeth, as well as the rush of wind when riding a motorcycle. 

The study, which surveyed participants, found mouth haptics to greatly increase immersion and give a better feeling of presence for most. But for at least one user, simulating water with ultrasound was cognitively dissonant. 

"Even though the haptic effect was interesting and well placed, the sensations themselves didn't necessarily match [my] expectations," said the user. Researchers concede in the paper that their system is fundamentally limited, as vibration alone isn't enough to simulate what the mouth can feel. Still, participants largely preferred having mouth haptics versus not having it at all.

Right now the team is working on making the design smaller and lighter. Given that more work needs to be done, it will likely take a while before this technology makes its way to consumer headsets.