VR Haptics Advances in 2020
VR Haptics or the ability to interact with Virtual Reality through touch and feel is probably the strongest sensation that re-enforces the realism of the enclosed world generated digitally aside from the usual sight and sound. With Haptics, reaching out to touch something in VR or to react or recoil from something that touches you gives you this real world sensation like no other thus giving the simulation experience a way lot more depth and focus. Imagine grabbing a ball in VR and feeling it solidly press itself to the palm of ones hand as one exerts a squeezing motion on it. In reality your hand wearing a Haptic glove squeezes nothing but the glove give you the sensation of the ball being there. Such is the power of Haptics and with the continued advances being made today, the experience delivered gets more real than ever.
This 2020, several VR companies are continually working to improve their Haptic products to bring them to such levels of reality that consumers could only dream about by watching VR oriented movies or reading such stories like Neuromancer and the like. Haptics makes journeying into cyberspace an awesome thing and although VR gloves only include the hands, the experience alone combined with a good HMD and realistic audio set gives grabbing a ball, a rock, a fruit or even a WW2 vintage pineapple grenade a natural feel to it. The VR gloves can now actually feel texture and shape of surfaces.
With that, let's focus on what the industry currently has to offer in terms of development, which is the current advancements in Haptic VR Gloves. The two leading glove products are HaptX and the Dexta Robotics Wireless Gloves, one from the US and the other from China, that even in the VR industry, it looks like the Trade War very much exist.
According to Jake Rubin, founder and CEO of HaptX, the gloves have been in development for the last 6-7 years. The gloves are currently marketed as a kit and uses Haptx’s patented micro-fluidic technology that pumps fluid through wires to provide the feedback. During operation, Haptx Gloves provide powerful force feedback and motion tracking with sub-millimeter precision. Combined with an equally powerful HMD, the gloves can deliver unprecedented realism when feeling and touching objects in VR. HaptX has currently around 35 employees, with it’s offices located in Seattle and San Luis Obispo, California.
HaptX works on three key categories. These are Force Feedback, Tactile Feedback and High Precision Motion Tracking. With Force Feedback, pressure and the sensation of resistance on the skin defines the physicality of an object. An example would be holding a ball and feeling the solid sensation of it pushing back on your skin. Tactile Feedback on the other hand exerts pressure on the finger tips and skin when holding an object that lets you feel it's shape, texture, movement and other details that gives one the sensation of touching /holding/ grasping a real solid thing. Finally, high accuracy motion tracking insures that the smallest movement is tracked in order to provide the appropriate sensation output from the gloves. Tapping lightly or pushing on a solid object like a post will give different feedback effects to your skin. Combine all of these three and you end up with a pretty realistic sense of touch.
The Haptic glove uses an electro-magnetic coil that basically creates a field around the glove. For the fingers, the caps contain small sensors that can pick up the electro-magnetic field. The field is then varied depending on the object and contact being simulated like shape, size, surface, movement and other factors which is then felt as feedback within the glove. The feedback is provided through pressure points which contain groups of micro-pads which would rise and fall to provide the detailed pressure for the feedback effects. When an object is grasped in VR, the game or app engine passes the info to the glove's interface software and to the controller box to enable the necessary feedback effects on the glove(s). This works in sync with the three key categories mentioned above. High-End Haptic Gloves usually use at least 130 feedback points and around 144 micro-valves to simulate the sense of touch.
China based Dexta Robotics has been developing the Dexmo Haptic Wireless Force Feedback VR Gloves. In theory they kind of work similarly with the HaptX as it also provides force feedback for objects in VR. The fingers are also inserted into cups which are connected to servo-motors which provide the feedback. Force feedback is multi-directional and can be felt at the fingertips, the palm and the back of the hand. If you grab a ball or any object in VR, the gloves will prevent your fingers from completely closing giving the sensation of holding something solid. If you grab a pistol, you will feel the handle and butt portion of the handgun. Squeezing something in VR provides an appropriate effect. If you squeeze a virtual rubber duck your hands and fingers will feel the pressure of the squeeze.
The Dexmo though compared to the HaptX has the unique feature of being wireless. This gives more flexibility and freedom as compared to the HaptX which is still cabled to a complex controller box. The difference in quality of realism however would be another thing. The Dexmo though has also good simulated Tactile Feedback as pressing buttons will produce a realistically simulated effect that you can actually type on a keyboard in VR and really feel it. Simulated living things can also be felt like holding a Virtual Heart where you can actually feel the beating with the gloves. Textures of objects can be felt though to some extent like sliding your hand across a course surface in VR, that will be felt by your palm and fingers.
Since the gloves are wireless, battery charge can only last up to four hours and will need recharging after that as compared the HaptX which gets it's juice from it's own controller box.
Both Haptic glove products are currently only for development, scientific research, industrial production and other enterprise applications. The gloves are still to expensive for the consumer market and it will take a little more time before they can be adapted for home use and the gaming world. By the time it does, it would definitely be an ultra-awesome experience.