A new Facebook [stock symbol=”FB”] patent aims to make audio in virtual reality (VR) a notch more immersive by bringing sound directly to a user’s head.
Spatial audio adds an important element to the VR experience allowing for changing the direction a sound is coming from relative to a person’s position.
The new patent envisions the use of multiple bone transducers placed on the head on the user’s head.
The transducers, e.g. a piezoelectric device, “vibrates to induce vibration of bones in the user’s head which are similar to the vibrations caused by acoustic waves. This could add a more realistic feel to VR in terms of objects and events position in the environment.
The patent brings VR a step closer to being “real”, mimicking users’ natural way of conducting sound to the inner ear.
Some hearing aids use similar techniques, utilizing electromechanical transducer, sending sounds into the inner ear by converting signals into bone vibrations.
Google Glass and other wearables also use bone conduction transducers (BCTs) to create physical vibration and make audio more realistic. Now Facebook intends to bring the technology into VR through its Oculus headset.
Facebook’s patented technology addresses a common problem with use of regular headsets.
“…many users are unable to accurately distinguish between perceived sources of audio data in certain positions in front of the user’s head or in certain positions behind the user’s head”, the patent documents say.
Facebook’s team is developing special headphones with six bone transducers contacting specific points of the user’s head which will help them better perceive sources of audio data relative to their position.
Furthermore, the technology includes a model where by the system learns from a user’s responses to various sounds and frequencies to improve the experience over time. It can prompt the user to turn to one direction or another based on where they perceive sounds coming from. The system can then generate models about that particular user’s responses, store and further improve those models with the user’s collaboration.
Oculus pioneered a VR headset through a Kickstarter project in 2012 which raised more than $2 million. The success of the headset led to a Facebook acquisition in 2014 for $2 billion.