Is it possible to experience being another life form?
Created by Yedan Qian (Umeå Institute of Design) and Xin LIU from Fluid Interfaces Group, TreeSense is a sensory VR system that transforms a person into a tree, from a seedling to its full-size form, to its final destiny. The person experiences what it feels like to be a tree by seeing and feeling her arms turning into branches and her body into a trunk. To evoke these sensations, we put electrodes at several key locations on the user’s forearms to stimulate muscles and the skin, so that she can feel branches growing, a worm crawling, or a bird landing on her arm. This intimate, visceral experience dramatically creates an illusion of being a different life form, and thus develops a personal, immediate identification with a need of environmental protection.
We put the user in a virtual environment with a first person perspective. The precise mapping between her physical and virtual body movement creates the sense of embodiment body ownership illusion. By using Electrical Muscle Stimulation (EMS) technology, we create essential physical sensations to elicit strong body ownership illusion.
Extending this methodology of embodied storytelling, a revised hyper-realistic version of Tree experience was created collaboratively with filmmakers Milica Zec and Winslow Porter and presented at the Sundance Film Festival in 2017. So far, over 200 people have experienced being a tree, and we will continue showcasing it in other venues including the TriBeCa Film Festival.