New Lightweight Silicon Glove Lets You Feel Virtual Reality Objects
The early days of virtual reality have been a complete visual experience. You see things that appear quite real until you reach to touch them only to realize it’s a digital object or a virtual image. Many headset makers are building even better hardware that will refine and elevate this visual experience to create virtual environments that extremely immersive.
In tandem with the advancements in the VR visual experience have been the developments of the peripheral virtual experiences. While the hardware makers are engrossed in making better resolution experiences with smooth controls, some tech companies are building peripheral experiences such as touch, smell and even taste that will make the virtual experience appear almost life-like.
Haptics or the sense of touch is one area that has seen a great deal of innovation in the recent years with various tech companies coming up with some cool contraptions that bring out the sense of touch in virtual reality experiences. The latest innovation in the scene is a tactile solution that involves a new kind of gloves which enables the wearer to actually feel the artificial virtual environments without having to grapple with bulky and clunky machines that will weigh down on their hands. It is the ideal VR tactile solution implemented with simple lightweight gloves and could have massive implications across a large spectrum of VR applications including in porn, online gaming, VR medical applications, virtual reality training and other immersive applications.
The gloves are a lightweight silicon device that leverage pressure from the finger sensors to simulate the physical sensation of handling or stroking CGI objects in an artificial environment.
It is the kind of technology that could take VR to a new life-like level of realism within a few years.
The wearers of the virtual reality gloves will be able to feel the shapes and sizes of the digital objects even though these objects are just virtual simulations. The technology is a vast improvement over the existing virtual reality gloves which tend to be bulky and rely on vibrations in simulating the sense of touch. Also, it goes a step further by transmitting a sense of shape to the user’s finger tips which is a vast improvement and great breakthrough over the existing gloves which are only capable of transmitting textures.
Providing a Touch Feedback on the Shape of the Object
Also, while the existing virtual reality gloves allow users to feel the textures of computer-generated objects, they do not sense the shape of the object. The reliance on vibrations means that you will need air compressors or heavy motors to apply the pressure on the fingers in order to generate the sense of touch.
The prototype gloves were developed by researchers in South Korea and have been used in effectively manipulating a virtual hand in a virtual environment. During tests, users were able to successfully pick digital chess pieces on a virtual chess board.
This now creates the possibility of having gloves that are not only lightweight and non-restrictive but which are capable of translating both shape and texture into a real tactile feedback when a user touches a virtual object.
How does it work?
To create the virtual reality gloves, the researchers outfitted soft silicone actuators and with sensors capable of detecting hand motions. The actuators were small silicone bubbles that were coupled with electrodes in order to generate the electric force. The whole setup is what was used to generate the touch feedback on the user’s fingertips.
The virtual reality gloves make use of sensors to direct the computer on where the virtual hand should go while the actuators will create the sensation on the real hands. The sensors on these new VR gloves utilize the piezoelectric technology in materials that generate electric charges when they are squeezed. The gloves are lined with these piezoelectric materials and subsequently, every flick or bend of the articles activates the piezoelectric material which produces a measurable electric pulse. The pulse is then translated by the software into digital commands for the virtual hand. The concept of it is fairly simple even though the implementation is a bit more difficult.
The researchers cleverly tapped into the sensor function in the piezoelectric materials but it is the actuators within the virtual reality gloves that they are more interested in as these actuators were specifically developed for this VR haptic project.
Each of the actuators is a tiny and flat air bubble that has been encased inside a thin silicone skin. Through the application of electric current to change the shape of the silicone, the researchers were able force the air inside them into smaller spaces which “popped up”. By varying the signals, they were able to change the height of the air bubble enabling them to turn it on and off almost instantly.
That tiny air bubble has been the key to the haptic innovation that now enables the transmitting of both texture and shape of objects in virtual reality. When implemented in fingertips of the virtual reality gloves, it is possible to trick the user’s fingers into perceiving a sense of touching or holding something.
The resulting virtual reality gloves designed from this technology weighed roughly a third of a pound. It was tested on a VR knight from a virtual chessboard and the tests proved to be a success. When the real hands of the user closed over a digital object, the actuators in the gloves mimicked the physical dimensions of the virtual object by expanding proportionally into the real fingertips of the user. This allowed the real user to not only feel the knight’s shape but they were also able to pick it up and hold it thereby providing a convincing sense of touch that mimicked both shape and texture.
The development of the prototype glove with such haptic functionality represents a major breakthrough in the immersive field but it will take time before this is refined into a real smooth haptic feedback function.
For example, the current prototype glove will only fit three fingers with each of the fingers getting only a single actuator. It is still not possible for users to feel the finer details of sculptures. However, from this point, it will be possible to increase the sensitivity of the gloves so as to build on the technology and refine the haptic feedback.
The technology could in the future be linked with various VR software in order to be put to diverse uses.