Facebook Reaches for More Realistic VR With Haptic Gloves

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long before facebook While officially renaming itself to Meta—a sign to the world that it was getting more serious about virtual and augmented reality technologies—the company had begun to reveal key parts of its anticipated Metaverse.

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Its Meta Quest 2 (née Oculus Quest 2) was already considered one of the best wireless VR headsets available. More recently, officials of Meta Reality Labs, the company’s research and development arm, revealed a wrist wearable that translates electrical motor nerve signals into digital commands and an upcoming “Project Cambria” headset that’s supposed to support realistic avatars and advanced eye tracking .

Now, the controversy-ridden social media company—because it’s still a social media company, and it’s still controversial—is revealing one of these futuristic-VR prototypes. This time it’s a haptic glove designed to give the wearer sensations that mimic the weight and feel of real objects when they are handled in virtual space. Slip on this glove, and you can rest assured that you’re holding the real thing (or something close to it), even when the object is completely digital.

Reality Labs’ Sean Keller wears prototype haptic gloves.Photograph: Facebook Reality Labs

Michael Abrash, chief scientist at Meta Reality Labs and Sean Keller, director of research science at the labs, say the haptic glove has been in the works for several years and is still nowhere close to being released to the public. But it’s just another part of the bigger AR/VR picture for Meta, where sight and sound and touch fuse together to make an augmented digital world more realistic.

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“What we’re trying to do is figure out how to give you rich feedback so that your hands become fully utilitarian,” Abrash says. “It’s a critical piece and one of the hardest, long-term risk pieces, but once it’s in place, VR can really become an environment in which almost anything is possible that you can do effectively.” are capable of.”

all hands

The problem Meta is trying to solve is a real problem in VR that other companies have hit out at. Slip on a VR headset, and you’re cut off from the real world. Slip on VR headsets with inside-out tracking—the term often used to describe sensors and cameras that capture the environment around you—and moving around in VR becomes more manageable.

But then when you try to use your physical hands to pick up virtual objects, the whole flirting with VR falls flat again. It suddenly seems distracting. Controllers, like the ones that ship with the Quest 2, are a decent proxy for hands and allow you to at least navigate menus or play games when you’re wearing a full headset. However, these are mostly input devices and don’t give you the kind of tactile feedback you’d get with your real hands.

Kate Healy, a research process engineer at Reality Labs, manipulates virtual objects while wearing prototype gloves.Photograph: Facebook Reality Labs

Upstarts like HaptX, SenseGlove, Hi5, and Manus, among others, have shown off gloves designed for use with VR headsets and capable of capturing accurate hand-tracking and finger movement data. But Meta’s Reality Labs division has now spent seven years working on this current prototype and is committed to spending at least $10 billion on its Metaverse hardware, software and apps this year alone. (Becoming a haptic glove startup is a sad day.)

Abrash and Keller are also reporting on Reality Labs’ progress microfluidics technology as one of the differentiators in these prototype gloves. Typically, haptic glove systems use a pattern of actuators to simulate the feeling of tactile feedback for the wearer. The more actuators on the glove, the more accurate and realistic any motion will be. But if you load up a glove with too many actuators relying on electronic circuitry, you’ll generate enough heat to cook someone’s hand. So Abrash and Keller say they’ve come up with soft actuators and “the world’s first high-speed microfluidic processor,” a chip that controls the glove’s airflow system, which powers the actuators.

That in no way means that Meta’s haptic glove prototype—which is just a prototype—will be the tactile feedback solution every VR skeptic has been waiting for. It may not even be able to replicate every sensation you get in the “real world”. However, Keller insists that accurate recreation of the real world is not necessary for a natural and intuitive experience in VR.

Abrash agrees, adding that eventually, realistic AR or VR will take a “multimodal” approach, where a few key senses are being hooked together. He described a Reality Labs test where he wore a VR headset and had an actuator on his fingers to mimic what a haptic glove could do. When he ran his finger across a ceramic plate in VR, he heard the sound of his finger on the unfinished plate and saw it in front of him. But part of that simulation was the sight and sound of his finger moving across the virtual plate. Once sight and sound were removed for him, it felt like a small motor buzzing at the end of his finger. Reality, or its version of Meta, was temporarily disabled; Only the gloomy reality remained.

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