Hands-On: Manus VR Arm And Finger Tracking System Now In Production

by David Jagneaux • July 21st, 2016

Regardless of whether or not you prefer the HTC Vive or the Oculus Touch, or maybe the PlayStation Move controllers, the fact remains none of these solutions actually offer 1:1 tracking for your entire hand. Those controllers feel great if you’re holding something inside of a VR experience, but when it comes to touching and interacting with things using the dexterity of your fingers, the illusion falls away.

Manus VR is hoping to alleviate that problem with their innovative glove design. I got the chance to try these gloves out for myself and I can confirm that they do an excellent job of bringing my hands into the virtual world in a believable way. Solutions like Leap Motion exist already in a limited capacity, but it doesn’t feel quite as accurate and requires the use of an additional sensor on the headset, rather than slipping on a pair of gloves.

During my hands-on session, I got to try two different demos. The first was of a short, interactive experience called Pillow’s Willow, which was specifically designed to showcase the hand and finger tracking capabilities of the Manus VR gloves. You can see a full playthrough of the demo below:

In the experience, you take an eagle eye, zoomed out perspective as you look down at the world like a virtual diorama. As a little character moves through the environment, you help her by interacting with objects in the world, rebuilding paths, and blocking obstacles. It’s a simple and intuitive system that helps highlight the benefits of full hand and motion-tracking inside a virtual space.

There are no buttons to learn or special movements to master, you just reach out and touch things like you would in real life. Removing that layer of abstraction that a controller introduces skyrockets the sense of presence.

This short demo was only a tease of what’s possible, as I’d imagine a more detailed experience that’s longer and requires even more dexterity would only make the use of Manus VR’s gloves even more important. After this demo, they instructed me to keep the gloves on and they rigged arm straps that attached the HTC Vive’s controllers to my forearms. It’s a rudimentary application, but it got the job done. You can read more about the debut of arm-tracking here.

This demonstration did not involve an actual game to interact with, but instead had me standing inside of a wide open environment. Simply waving my arms around and seeing the actual joints and bones of my in-game avatar accurately reflect what my real body was doing was a bit jarring at first. I’m used to other VR experiences at this point that have either floating, disembodied hands as my in-game representation, or wonky arm physics that jut out in unnatural ways. Seeing something that felt real just by wearing gloves and strapping controllers to my arms was impressive.

Since this is still early stages, there were kinks that need to be worked out. Obviously strapping controllers to your arm in this fashion isn’t practical, at least not in the long-term, and developing an experience specifically for niche technology like this may not be the most cost-effective use of development time and money for an already small consumer VR market.

Dev kits went on sale earlier this year and today it was announced that Flexpoint Sensor Systems, Inc., has officially received the initial production order for the Manus VR gloves, which officially means they are in production. In a press release, Flexpoint stated:

“Our sensor solution will help power their exciting and innovative VR gloves. Flexpoint and Manus VR have entered initial production phases of a custom sensor system, which features the Bend Sensor®, for 240 sensor systems.  Flexpoint expects to deliver several hundred thousand sensor systems annually upon full production. Both companies anticipate a rapid growth trajectory for the products globally during the second half of 2016 and beyond.”

You can also check out the software development platform if you’re interested in utilizing the Manus VR technology.

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