Feeling virtually

Haptic solutions for Virtual and Augmented Reality

Feeling virtually

You can see them in museums and galleries, on counters and at sales stands: large signs with the inscription “Please don’t touch!” The reason for this is that we humans are haptic beings. We want to feel objects that interest us in order to understand them.

Virtual Reality (VR) and Mixed or Augmented Reality (AR) have made impressive progress in recent decades. They have opened the door to a new world in which we can not only experience heroic adventures, but also for new approaches to learning content, simplified communication paths  or more space for creative approaches.

Industries such as the entertainment industry, aircraft and automobile manufacturers and suppliers as well as the marketing departments of large corporations have long since discovered the potential of these technologies for themselves and use VR and AR in different ways for their purposes – for example in brand communication and service. The results show that there are mainly three areas in which the technology offers unbeatable advantages: in engineering, in service and for training purposes.

The example of the industrial sector

In the industrial sector, complex systems can already be represented as so-called digital twins in the form of a 3D model. These models are suitable, for example, for learning how to set up a plant or for testing structural and optical changes, and thereby for saving costs and resources. Nevertheless, when it comes to haptic sensory impressions, we’re still reaching into the void. Various companies are, however, already developing solutions so that the virtual world will soon feel deceptively real.

A realistic haptic feedback would extend the application spectrum of VR and AR extremely and open up additional possibilities. First of all, it is to be expected that tactile feedback would further promote the acceptance of the technology, because the more advanced, familiar and user-friendly virtual world is,  the more similar it becomes to the real world. In addition, if technicians were taught how tight a screw should be fastened or how far a bolt has to be driven during the assembly or maintenance of a virtual machine, the haptic feedback would be even more beneficial. Also the communication of danger – e.g. by feeling virtual heat – would offer an immense advantage.

From haptic-gloves to body suits

In order to make VR and AR perceptible, developers usually use a haptic accessory. Haptic gloves transmit the movement of the fingers or the rotation of the hands and are equipped with sensors that provide tactile feedback for the user.

Hapto, a VR controller from Singapore, is put over the palm of the hand. It is equipped with 20 mechanical buttons, which can be controlled individually and provide the user with haptic feedback by pressing on the palm. The movement of the controller is transmitted via light circles on its outer surfaces.

The company Go Touch VR, based in France, has reduced the glove to individual elements that can be attached to one or more fingers as required and simulate gripping or touching virtual objects with vibration motors.

The somewhat oversized-looking gloves Dexmo of the Chinese startup Dexta Robotics can not only grip virtual objects, but also convey a feeling for the nature of an object via electric motors. A virtual stone has a stronger resistance between the fingers than a rubber duck.

In fact, we don’t just feel with our fingers, which is why there are already attempts to extend sensitive feedback to the entire body. The Seattle-based startup AxonVR is implementing this idea. The AxonSuit is intended to exert pressure on different parts of the body, but it can also simulate heat and cold. The suit has a tactile and a thermal layer. The tactile layer is silicone-based and has numerous bubbles that can be filled with air to create pressure points. When shooting a virtual ball, pressure on the instep creates realistic haptic feedback. The second layer, which influences the temperature sensation, works with liquid.  

Microsoft Controller

Microsoft, which already developed the HoloLens, the most technically sophisticated product in the field of AR glasses, supports numerous research projects for the development of haptic solutions. Four controllers are currently attracting attention with exciting features:

The CALW has a motorized arm that gives tactile feedback to the index finger. It takes into account aspects such as the position of the thumb or the virtual situation. It knows when the user grabs a virtual object and simulates this by a resistance between the fingers. A feeling for the materiality of the object can also be conveyed.

The Haptic Wheel is named after a wheel that is located under the user’s index finger when he holds the controller in his hand. It can be equipped with various materials, which the user can feel depending on the virtual situation: a piece of felt for the table cover, coated cardboard for a playing card, hard plastic for the chip, for example when the user is playing poker at a virtual table. Turning the wheel under the lowered finger simulates stroking over an object surface.

The Haptik Links consist of two controllers which, depending on the context, are fixed with different connecting elements at a certain distance and position from each other or remain flexible. They give the user the feeling of holding a steering wheel, carrying a rifle or stretching an arrow in a bow.

The Canetroller is a kind of white cane that recognizes virtual objects and displays them to the user both haptically and acoustically. With its help, blind and visually impaired people can safely learn how to find their way in reality. If the stick touches a virtual trash can, a muffled noise sounds and the stick is interrupted in its movement as if it were bouncing off the trash can. In addition, the user wears a device around his hip. It slows down the movement of the cane to indicate resistance.

STRATOS – a solution without accessories

With the STRATOS platform launched in February 2018, the start-up Ultrahaptics is pursuing an approach that does not require any haptic accessories at all. Ultrasonic transducers are used to generate a haptic field in the room that can be felt with the hands as a resistance.

As a company specializing in Augmented Reality solutions for industrial applications, we at VISCOPIC follow the development of haptic sensations with great interest. We rate the first results as very promising and are curious to see when we will be able to work with the first marketable solutions.

At this point we will keep you informed about the further development of the topic and hope to make the potential of haptic VR applications usable for you in the near future. Until then we support you with the versatile application possibilities that AR and VR already offer. Contact us . Together with you, we will develop an individual solution according to your needs. Further information can be found at www.viscopic.com.

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