Microsoft Research showed off a new haptic VR controller which simulates grabbing small objects with the thumb and first two fingers, delivering rich haptic feedback. The controller is codenamed TORC— TOuch Rigid Controller.
The user’s thumb rests on a capacitive surface. The two fingers rest against linear actuators (also used in the Oculus Touch and HTC Vive controllers) to give targeted haptic feedback. Inside the device near the thumb is a force sensor.
Users can grab virtual objects by simply applying a grabbing force, or let go by simply removing that grabbing force. Objects held in the hand can even be rotated by swiping the thumb across the capacitive surface.
TORC was designed to even allow for squeezing of objects. While your fingers don’t move, Microsoft claims the targeted haptic vibrations combined with the squeezing you see in VR trick your brain into feeling as though you’re actually squeezing. The company explained that this emerged from their neuroscience research on “dynamic visuotactile stimulation”.
The prototype uses an HTC Vive Tracker for positional tracking, but that can be swapped out for any tracking system wanted. The innovations here are in the application of force sensors and haptics, not related to tracking.
The company also showed a drawing depicting how this technology could look directly integrated into a product:
The drawing bares a striking resemblance to the existing Windows MR controllers used on headsets such as the HP Reverb. While Microsoft describes TORC as a “proof of concept”, if it can be miniaturized and mass produced, it’s possible it could become part of the next generation Windows MR controllers one day.
Valve recently opened preorders for the Index Controllers, which feature basic finger tracking and allow the user to let go. But VR controllers still have a long way to go to reach their ultimate goal of simulating arbitrary objects- projects like TORC are a small step on that journey.