It won't be long before we immerse ourselves in total artificial reality, only popping back home for lunch. In the meantime, a minor change in the feel of controllers could have a big impact on our gaming experiences.
Engineers at the University of Utah have put our sense of touch to good use, with a game controller that subtly stretches the skin on your thumb tips to emulate motion.
The video below shows how it works. The idea is that even though the motion is subtle, "skin-stretch feedback" (as they call it) will immerse you further in the experience. How you respond to the cues the controller providers adds another dimension to how you play. In effect, you've got skin in the game!
The new controller takes advantage of our delicate sense of touch, which can pick up on even the slightest movement. Studies have shown that test users were 95 per cent accurate in identifying the speed and direction of the movement.
This can apply not just to gaming, but also to more productive endeavours, like guiding blind people or even providing a more sensitive scrolling mechanism for handheld devices. We're looking forward to a new iPod (do people still buy them?) with a wheel that answers back. Perhaps it could vibrate a little more as we spin over some of the noisier tracks.
The researchers reckon the idea of skin stretching doesn't have to apply to just your fingers. We'll leave it to you to figure out where else it could work, but it does seem like a simple concept that could become commonplace very quickly.