What is Tactile Virtual Reality and how is it used?

What is Tactile Virtual Reality and how is it used?
7 min read
17 November 2021

Tactile Virtual Reality (TVR) is a new development in the field of virtual reality. Through the use of active tactile feedback devices, TVR creates physical sensations that can be experienced with any sense through an immersive 3D environment. This technology provides us the opportunity to enhance peoples' ability to perform complex tasks in training, manufacturing, or medicine simulations.

Currently, no existing device will provide a full TVR experience for users - i.e., all five senses are stimulated at once, and it doesn't involve brain stimulation. Currently, most systems only stimulate two or three senses at one time, with limited mobility by gloves or other wearable devices. However, this system does not stimulate touch on more than one point of the skin surface on the hand simultaneously, which is known as 1-to-1.

Tactile Virtual Reality is not virtual reality "without the use of motion or visuals." Tactile Virtual Reality creates sensory feedback by applying physical stimulations to users' skin. It feels like the user is touching anything in the virtual world, but it's just an illusion created by tactile sensations on his/her skin. This technology has been tested mainly on the index finger and the palm of users' hands. Therefore, TVR delivers information via touch signals, which directly stimulates our brain through our fingertips. By doing that, TVR can create illusions to stimulate all five senses including vision, hearing, taste, smell, and touch simultaneously.

For full collaboration between VR systems and active tactile devices, there needs to be sensing devices that can capture the VR scene and the skin stimuli to understand what each tactile device is supposed to stimulate.

The main idea behind Tactile Virtual Reality technology is that it divides the process into these four steps:

1. Visualization:

Creating, modeling, and rendering the virtual scene and environment

2. Sensing and processing:

Sending the user's location and orientation in 3D space to many tactile devices that can deliver tactile feedback on users' skin when he/they touched virtual objects in a VR environment.

3. Transmission of information:

Affecting our nervous system by sending signals from tactile devices through neural pathways to users' brains so they can feel what they see in the VR scene.

4. Affecting our nervous system:

Stimulating our nerve-endings is called neuroplasticity which affects how we perceive information, learn and memorize things. The most important thing about Tactile Virtual Reality Technology is that it can affect human physiology and behavior directly even without using any brain-decoding method.

Technical information

Tactile Virtual Reality technology requires a multi-sensory environment with objects and generated effects in the virtual world. This is because we perceive different types of stimuli generated by objects such as temperature, texture, pressure, weight, and hardness differently through our five senses. Therefore, it's not enough to only generate tactile feedback through one device at hand. TVR system needs an integrated network that can deliver tactile sensory signals from multiple active devices which will interact with each other on a real-time basis to represent virtual objects and scenes correctly to users' brains. Moreover, TVR Technology should be able to manage and control what kind and where the object's contact is felt through its special algorithms for touch receptors simulation which can affect human physiology and behavior directly.

The Tactile Virtual Reality technology is still in the development period, but the main idea behind it is that UC Davis engineering students have helped develop a prototype TVR system to improve their diagnostic skills in medical school classes such as gross anatomy and neuroanatomy. This prototype was tested on students with disabilities such as blindness or paralysis etc. The users' test results showed improved learning effectiveness by using TVR because they experienced all five senses at once to learn better about the anatomical structure of the body during the virtual dissection task. Moreover, this study also found out that "the brain's synaptic plasticity can be shaped according to how information from the environment is received through our sense organs." This means manipulating people's nervous system with TVR is a real possibility in the future.

How is it used?

The Tactile Virtual Reality technology is mainly used for medical training programs. Among some of the dissection TVR applications are:

1- Simulation training for surgeons to practice operations on virtual bodies without wasting any cadavers

2- Medical students learning about organs, tissues, and organs structures during classroom lectures

3- Training prosthetic limb users on how to achieve optimal sensory feedback by using tactile devices to learn new tasks which need motor skills so they can quickly adapt their movements in daily life activities. This will also help them become more independent with less assistance from others. It's worth mentioning that the TVR system can be used as an occupational therapy tool as well where people with disabilities such as blindness or paralysis can use it at home or outdoors under the supervision of medical and health care professionals.

4- Improving people's knowledge about certain body parts and organ functions by using TVR as a training tool because several studies have found out that the human brain can perceive tactile information from four different touch receptors in our skin which are:

1) Merkel endings:

They react to very light touch, e.g., a steadying hand on a patient's shoulder or holding hands between mother and child.

2) Meissner corpuscles:

 They provide information about fine, detailed textures such as the ridges of coins and paper money.

3) Ruffini endings:

 They respond to steady pressure or stretching of tissues, e.g., tightening a tourniquet around someone's arm or leg before drawing blood.

4) Pacinian corpuscles:

They are sensitive to vibrations, e.g., passing a stethoscope over someone's abdomen or chest when listening for bowel sounds or enlarged lymph nodes.


The Tactile Virtual Reality technology is being developed to improve medical training programs that will help people with disabilities train their motor skills by using it as an occupational therapy tool. Furthermore, the TVR system is also designed to provide five senses of awareness at once and this not only helps people learn more effectively but also makes learning fun and enjoyable because they interact with virtual objects and feel them. But we need to wait for practical applications of this technology on healthcare education programs and its long-term benefits for critical patients such as critical care surgeries or surgeries conducted on war soldiers etc.

Author Bio:

Sarah has been writing for a decade and now for the online Quran classes UK Website. She obtained her Master’s degree at the University of London. Her main objective is to write insightful content for those people who read and like it.


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