Promising new VR haptics research may eventually lead to thinner, consumer-ready glove controllers.
The research, carried out by the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne (EPFL) uses ‘soft active surfaces’ filled with oil to create a sense of touch when picking up objects and interacting with items in VR. Check it out in the video below.
As you can see, the approach uses electrical impulses to manipulate a small amount of dielectric fluid (in this case, vegetable oil) housed in pockets made up of a stretchable membrane. When activated with a voltage, the oil compresses together to create bumps that will press against the user’s fingers. Imagine picking an object up in VR, for example, and the surface pushing into your fingers as you grasped it. The oil can even be vibrated, which may provide deeper immersion when, say, blocking an attack with a shield.
Right now, EPFL researchers have created bumps between three to 20 millimeters in size with up to 25 devices aligned together. However, the group hopes to take its work further with a design integrated into a haptic glove that covers the entire hand.
Obviously, having not tried the tech for ourselves, we can’t speak to the quality of the haptic sensations this approach might provide. Would bumps be able to cover a wide enough surface area to create a truly convincing, consistent haptic sensation, for example?
That said, the miniaturization of haptic VR gloves is one of the key areas holding them back from consumerization right now. Companies like HaptX have impressive devices for enterprise use, but they cost far too much and are way too bulky to use with headsets like Oculus Quest. EPFL’s work is early, but could provide a path to thinner VR gloves that we could finally take home.
What do you make of this new VR haptics research? Let us know in the comments below!