SOCIAL MEDIA – Inside Reality Labs Research: Bringing Touch To The Virtual World

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We’re sharing the progress of Reality Labs in developing haptic gloves that will allow us to feel the sensation of touch in the future.
The team has made many breakthroughs over the past seven years. These include pushing the boundaries in soft robotics and developing the first high-speed microfluidic processing device.

One of our Reality Labs Research teams is focused on inventing the future of interaction in augmented and virtual reality. The team’s goal: To solve the central challenge of the metaverse, how can we touch the virtual reality?

Imagine working on a virtual 3D puzzle with a friend’s realistic 3D avatar. As you pick up a virtual puzzle piece from the table, your fingers automatically stop moving as you feel it within your grasp. As you grip the piece of cardboard, you feel its edges and smoothness. Then you feel a satisfying snap when you place it in its proper place.

To enable this experience and bring touch to the metaverse, the team is developing haptic gloves: comfortable and customizable gloves that can reproduce a range of sensations in virtual worlds, including texture, pressure and vibration. While we’re still in the early stages of this research, the goal is to one day pair the gloves with your VR headset for an immersive experience like playing in a concert or poker game in the metaverse, and eventually they’d work with your AR glasses.

Pioneering New Scientific Domains with Haptic Glove Research

Building these gloves is a challenge that requires inventing entirely new domains of scientific research. The team has made haptic gloves a reality over the past seven years by pushing human-computer interaction forward in dozens of fields. Here are a few examples:

Perceptual Science: Because current technology can’t fully recreate the physics of the real world in VR, we’re exploring the idea of combining auditory, visual and haptic feedback for things like convincing a wearer’s perceptual system that it’s feeling an object’s weight.
Soft robotics: Existing mechanical actuators create too much heat for such a glove to be worn comfortably all day. We are creating soft actuators, tiny motors that move together to provide sensation to the glove’s wearer.
Microfluidics: We’re developing the world’s first high-speed microfluidic processor — a small microfluidic chip that controls the air flow that moves the actuators. Air (a fluid) allows us to fit more actuators onto the glove than with electronic circuitry.
Hand tracking: Even with a way to control air flow, the system needs to know when and where to deliver the right sensations. Advanced hand-tracking technology is being developed by us to allow it to pinpoint where your hand is within a virtual scene. It can also determine whether your hand is in direct contact with an object, and how your hand interacts with the object.
Haptic rendering: Our haptic renderer sends precise instructions to the actuators on the hand, based on an understanding of things like the hand’s location and properties of the virtual objects (such as texture, weight and stiffness) that the hand comes in contact with.

Our haptic glove project started as a moonshot, but it’s increasingly feasible as we continue to innovate and complete research. We’ve developed new technologies, techniques and disciplines over the past seven years. This has allowed us to push the limits of soft robotics, invent new materials, and create new manufacturing processes. Moving each of these research areas forward requires time to get the technology right, so while our haptic glove research will remain in the lab for now, we’re excited about the progress we’ve made and the potential it shows for a virtual world you can touch.

Learn more about our haptic glove project.

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