Haptic feedback in VR refers to the artificial sensation of actually feeling virtual objects and materials. Imagine one day putting on a VR glove and feeling the smoothness of rubber and the roughness of sandpaper.
The “skin” is made of silicone. Tiny pneumatic actuators pump air into a membrane which causes it to inflate and deflate rapidly. These actuators have a variable frequency, up to 100 Hz, and variable pressure. This allows a wide range of touch materials to be simulated.
A strain sensor, made of liquid-solid gallium mixture, measures the movement of the user’s finger. This can be used to adapt the haptic frequency and pressure based on the finger’s position and deformation.
The researchers claim this skin can be stretched for up to one million cycles, which could make it suitable for consumer products one day.
Right now this is just a research project, but the researchers say their next step will be to develop a “fully wearable prototype” to prove out its viability.
This technology sounds somewhat similar to one of the haptic VR glove patents we’ve seen from Facebook Reality Labs. Pneumatics may play an important role in delivering the rich haptic hands we all want to see in VR one day in the future — although another technology may prove to be the answer instead.