Is it possible to experience being another lifeform? TreeSense is a tactile virtual reality system that explores the bodily experiences of being a tree. Seeing and feeling their arm as the branches and their body as the trunk, the user experiences being the tree from a seed rising through the dirt, sprouting branches and growing to a full-size tree until it is violently chopped down. The technical contribution of the TreeSense lies in the visuo-tactile integration in the virtual environment with Electrical Muscle Stimulation (EMS) as feedback to provide a believable body ownership illusion(BOI) experience.

TreeSense (2016) from Fluid Interfaces on Vimeo.

The beauty of allowing people to be part of a story is that it makes an experience unique each person each time. In experimental theater, for example, artists blur the boundary of the reality and the play and morph viewers into actors to create the unsettling illusion of “what if I were … ”. But the embodiment we want to achieve with TreeSense is much more visceral and immersive.

Unlike conventional storytelling mediums, such as films, that are limited to only sight and hearing, we tap into more senses to set up the mood for a immediate mindset change. The body image and body schema inside our brains are plastic and variable. Through a systematic alteration of sensory stimuli, such as vision, touch, motor control and proprioception, the brain can inhabit a body dramatically different from ours, such as a tree. And this body illusion leads to a more direct, personal and emotional connection with the new identity that we embodied.

Electronic Muscle Stimulation as Visuo-tactile Feedback

In this project, we will seek to achieve BOI over non-humanoid avatar body through various tactile sensation by electronic muscle stimulation (EMS). Previous work in VR has found out that when a first person perspective(FPP) is provided over an avatar body that is not highly realistic, sole visuoproprioceptive cues are no longer sufficient. Congruent visuotactile cues are critical for eliciting a vivid ownership. In this project, we will investigate electronic muscle stimulation (EMS) as the main tactile technology and explore multiple EMS sensations such as on-skin sensation, muscle sensation, muscle control, etc, for various scenarios.

My Role: Concept Development, Hardware
Collaborators: Yedan Qian (Design, Unity), Pattie Maes(Academic Support)