Virtual Disembodiment

Virtual Disembodiment is an experimental AR iOS app that explores using haptics and AR to create a novel sensory experience. With the app, you place fleshy spheres in the world around you. Each sphere is connected to a point on a haptic vest. When you reach out and stoke one of the fleshy spheres with your hand, it gets stimulated which sends a vibration to the corresponding point on the vest. The longer and more tenderly your stroke the flesh, the stronger the tactile sensations (and the louder the deliciously squishy sounds the spheres makes become too!)

Virtual Disembodiment is actually my second foray into haptics and AR. Back in 2019, I created Detachable Penis, an experimental app which you sow that most venerable of members about the world. In that case, the virtual, low-poly penises were connected up to a vibrator. I’ve been itching to dive back into haptics and AR ever since then, but a lack of time and a lack of hardware got in the way. Haptics are also not an easy space to work in, or a terribly practical one right now either. Really though, those are all just excuses for why it took me three years to make the jump from poking at virtual dicks to stoking virtual balls, but hey I guess that’s progress!

More seriously though, what I find the interesting about Virtual Disembodiment is that it offers the smallest of glimpses at a new mode of being in the world, one in which the body you inhabit isn’t a single unit but a distributed set of pieces all picking up and transmitting sensations. Even with the rudimentary haptics and even having to hold your phone up the whole time, it is a novel experience to reach out to stroke a virtual sphere and actually feel the touch it in your body.

By arranging and scaling the sensory spheres about you in your environment using the app, you can create and explore different sensory experiences. At one point I laid out the the sensory spheres for my back in a row—a bit like the keys on a piano—and had a grand ol’ time playing them, feeling the sensations increase and decrease as I went along.

1980s horror movies such as Basket Case and Society were inspirations for the spheres

A lot of effort and money is being spent right now trying to bring human bodies into virtual spaces. Reach out a hand to high-five your virtual mates! Smile and your avatar smiles with you! That’s all well and good, but what excites me most is AR and VR’s potential for exploring entirely new ways of being and experiencing. Haptics are a uniquely powerful and intimate avenue for this. Even though the technology for creating these haptic experiences is far from perfect, projects like this one show that it is already possible to start playing in the space and have a fun time doing so!

Unfortunately for now though Virtual Disembodiment is just a prototype. It’s not worth publishing in the App Store in its current state, especially given the hardware requirements. I hope more people will be able to share these types of experiences some day soon though. Let me know what you think about Virtual Disembodiment and if you have any interesting ideas about using how haptics with AR.

Audio asset credits: