Meta revealed details of its long-term research into force-feedback haptic gloves for VR and AR. The majority of today’s VR headsets include a pair of tracked hand controllers with basic vibration. Although some headsets, such as Meta’s Quest 2, offer controller-free hand tracking, the lack of haptic feedback restricts its utility.
Over the years, a slew of VR glove startups and crowdfunding campaigns have popped up, although the most simply deliver per-finger vibration. Force feedback gloves, which physically restrict your fingers in response to a virtual item, start at $5000, which is much less than earlier technologies.
Meta Presents Consumer Force Feedback Research Gloves
Meta’s goal is to create “soft, lightweight, stylish, comfortable, affordable, durable, and customizable” gloves that can simulate “a range of complex, nuanced sensations for the wearer such as pressure, texture, and vibration to create the effect of feeling a virtual object with your hands,” according to the company.
The corporation claims that its Reality Labs research team will need to make groundbreaking discoveries across the following scientific and engineering areas to achieve this goal.
- Actuators for Microfluidics
Gloves now use an array of tiny vibrating motors to imitate the texture of virtual things. More motors, like pixels on a screen, indicate a more accurate recreation of the sensation of virtual items. Traditional mechanical motors, according to Meta, are “too huge, expensive, and power-hungry to convey accurate haptic experiences,” thus the company entrusted its researchers four years ago to begin developing soft, malleable actuators built of “whole new materials.”
Emerging technologies such as soft materials on prosthetic limbs and microfluidics in cutting-edge medical diagnostics devices were studied by the researchers. Meta claims to have achieved advances in pneumatic actuators that use air to produce force feedback and electroactive actuators that change shape or size in response to an electric field.
Meta claims to be developing the world’s first high-speed microfluidic processor to control these novel actuators, describing it as “a tiny microfluidic chip on the glove that controls the airflow that moves the actuators, by telling the valves when and how far to open and close” with sub-second latency.
- Smart Textiles and New Manufacturing
Meta prefers haptic gloves that are light, soft, and long-lasting, rather than rigid, hefty, and uncomfortable. Its materials scientists worked on “customized at the molecular level to yield novel functionality” materials, a field known as smart textiles.
“How to incorporate various functionalities — including conductive, capacitive, and sensing functions — into the same fiber or fabric and enable a much thinner, more wearable form factor,” the researchers are investigating.
- Haptic Rendering
Highly accurate hand tracking is required to know which actuators to engage at any given time, as is a system to understand the shape, texture, weight, and stiffness of the virtual items you’re currently touching.
The researchers are developing “haptic rendering” algorithms that communicate with physics engines to provide the appropriate commands to the gloves. This requires “modeling the physics of touch” while taking into account technological restrictions and the inability to prohibit users from passing their hands through virtual walls and tables. This, according to Meta, necessitates a thorough understanding of multisensory integration, which is the science of how your brain combines information from numerous senses to comprehend the environment.
Claims made by Meta By “gently pushing on the skin of the wearer’s fingers with the actuators to mimic the tug of gravity” alongside visual and audio signals, according to the data shared by the company, VR experiences can use multisensory integration with exact timing to mislead your brain into having the sensation of holding weight.
Due to the complicated nature of the gloves, we do not expect a release date shortly. This, like most of Meta’s research displays, is most likely aimed at attracting world-class researchers to the Reality Labs team, to recruit the people capable of achieving the breakthroughs required to one-day offer technologies like this to consumers.