A lightweight glove that interacts with virtual reality to provide tactile feedback allows the wearer to feel and handle virtual objects. Details of the device are published in in a proof-of-principle study in Scientific Reports.
Gloves that allow wearers to feel objects in virtual reality work by using sensors, which detect the wearer’s movements and actuators, which provide physical feedback via mechanical stimuli such as vibration. Although previously developed actuators were able to accurately reproduce the texture of virtual objects, they could not provide information about their shape.
Youngsu Cha and colleagues developed a glove system that allows the wearer to manipulate a virtual hand, pick up an object in virtual reality and feel its shape. As the wearer of the glove moves their hand to pick up the object ― in this case a virtual chess horse ― the finger movements are detected by sensors in the glove. Data from the sensors are transferred via Bluetooth to a software programme that recreates corresponding movements of the virtual hand on a screen. Taking hold of the virtual object activates a set of soft silicone actuators developed by the authors. The actuators receive a signal from the virtual reality environment, which causes air inside them to move and expand the silicone in their centre. The user’s fingertips sense the pressure of the expanded silicone as if they were touching the virtual object, allowing them to feel its shape, pick it up and hold it in virtual reality.
The authors’ glove system can be operated without bulky external air compressors that were needed for previous actuators. The authors suggest that it may be used in different virtual reality environments by linking it with different software.