VR Glove Makes Virtual Objects Feel Real

Virtual reality accessory uses force-feedback to approximate sense of touch.

A new virtual reality glove promises to solve an enduring problem in the world of VR -- actually feeling what you touch.

The Dexmo glove, designed by a team of Chinese and European roboticists, uses a miniaturized force-feedback solution to let users grasp and hold items in virtual reality. Unlike other VR gloves that use vibration motors or electrodes for feedback, the Dexmo employs a mechanical system that applies varying degrees of torque to the fingers.

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The glove's resistance is strong enough, in fact, that it will physically prevent your fingers from passing through "solid" object in virtual reality -- a wall, say. According to the designers at Dexta Robotics, this provides a greater level of immersion than is possible with competing technologies. While other force-feedback systems have been applied to VR gloves, the Dexmo developers are aiming to create a lightweight, inexpensive battery-powered device for consumers and VR enthusiasts.

With an actual mechanical system pulling back on your fingers, an obvious question presents itself -- could the glove cause harm to your hand? Not a problem, say the designers: The maximum force feedback on each individual finger module is limited to less than half the average torque that a human finger can generate, according to the FAQ. If you really want to put your finger through that wall, you can.

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The glove can also provide a sensation of relative stiffness when handling virtual items. Grab a billiard ball, for instance, and it will feel different than a tennis ball. The glove even enables a user to feel "squishiness" -- a sponge will feel like a sponge, and not a brick. It achieves this effect by way of proprietary algorithms that dynamically alter the direction and magnitude of applied force depending on the virtual object.

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Besides the force-feedback system, tiny fingertip motors generate vibrations that can approximate tapping on an object or running your fingers over a rough surface. The glove has gone through more than 20 iterations so far and battery life is up to about four hours under normal usage.

The design team is currently working with early adopters and software developers, so you won't see the glove on shelves anytime soon. However, the device is designed to be fully compatible with existing VR systems like Oculus Rift and HTC Vive. The Dexmo team also hopes to get into the virtual training market, providing gloves for engineers, mechanics and even surgeons to train in the virtual realm.

H/T MIT Technology Review

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