Meta wants you to feel the metaverse through haptic gloves

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A haptic glove research prototype from Reality Labs Research.

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VR scenes can only look so good given current display technology, and we’re already approaching their limits. But what about our other senses? Facebook parent meta dream immersive metaverse makes big promises, but current VR interactivity is limited. NS Oculus Quest Controllers, for example, still feel more suited to gaming than work. Mixed reality after immersive video, face tracking And local audioHaptic feedback may be the next frontier.

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The idea of ​​slip-on vibrating gloves that make you feel like a virtual world has long been a part of our sci-fi vision of VR. META’s research arm has been working on haptic gloves for seven years, and the gloves that have been developed are not yet portable. But they may be someday.

I didn’t get a chance to try out Meta’s prototype myself, but Sean Keller, the company’s director of research at Reality Labs, and its chief scientist, Michael Abrash, talked me through the latest development. He explained why haptics are so important to Meta and where it all fits into the future of AR smart glasses.

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Bladder gloves?

Meta’s prototype inflatable-bladder gloves are a step in that direction that could eventually become a pair of consumer gloves. A fresh look at the tech, however, shows that it’s a while before we’ll see them bundled with the Quest VR headset successor.

The latest glove designs use microfluidics to push air through a series of bladders in the glove, which is less conceptually challenging than filling a pair of gloves with very few motors. It’s a weird idea, like Meta’s a . version of dune stillsuit for your hands.

“Literally, we are changing the hardness of the material,” Keller says. “We have those that use the air to move your fingers up and down, or laterally and inward — which helps you create that shear force — and those little bladders that pressurize make.”

RL-Actuators

Miniature pneumatic actuators (pictured), which use air pressure to create force.

But Meta’s belief is that Haptics can operate at a level that was not possible before. Facebook Reality Labs Research tried out a demo in 2017 that created the sensation of dropping balls made of different materials onto your outstretched fingers. The wooden ball felt different from the marble ball and squishy foam ball. The illusion is a combination of visual input from hundreds of pressure-applied bladders (pneumatic actuators), and VR. According to Michael Abrusch, it won’t work the same way on a 2D screen, making this technology exclusive to AR and VR.

The technology now exists in a lab, but Meta’s research indicates the need for a complete haptics rendering engine. It’s a reminder of how the PlayStation 5’s DualSense controller needs to be developed in new ways immersive haptics, but on a larger and more complex scale.

“I have all these bladders and things in my hands, they have tubes. And the next one, I’m going to have 10 times more. It becomes a big problem from a systems perspective, you can’t solve it any more.” days without building something like microfluidic microprocessors,” Keller says.

Meta is also working on ways to make the right materials for durability, so the gloves can actually be worn anywhere. But for now, the gloves are in purely research mode.

A 2017 experiment used a fingertip to the device, providing haptic feedback as a series of virtual spheres made of different materials — wood, marble, foam — fell from the sky in VR.

Touch as a way to connect devices

Based on Meta’s demonstrated demo concepts, a lot of the uses for Haptic Gloves right now look like simulations of hand-based activities: playing Jenga, thumb wrestling, or picking up objects. Many of these ideas are already possible with tracking at hand, minus the physical feedback alone.

Where Michael Abrusch sees technology making a huge difference is in emulating virtual tools. Typing on a keyboard, or holding a sculpting tool or a brush that’s not really there, could mean that haptics finally make the idea of ​​working in VR less awkward. Of course, for now, this will also mean wearing big, awkward gloves tied to cables and tubes, which is equally awkward.

“The question becomes, how well can gloves emulate tools? And I don’t know the answer yet,” says Abrash. “A virtual keyboard can move with your hands, so while you’re typing, if you move around a bit, we can still guess what you wanted to type.”

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An earlier haptic glove research prototype.

Smart Glasses Won’t Use Haptic Gloves (Not Now, At Least)

Abrash doesn’t expect haptic gloves to be used with smart glasses all the time; Instead, the company is working on electromyography. emg uses wrist band that can sense motor neuron signals, turn them into gestures and control. meta is already roadmap drawn up Where is that technology going? They’ll use wrist vibrations for band feedback, but Meta’s full haptic glove research could combine and lead to products that are a fusion of the two.

Abrash sees haptic gloves and neural input as a feedback loop that can make invisible tools work. But that combination of techniques is still theoretical: Right now, the meta has ceased to reassure haptics.

“One difference with EMG is that it’s unidirectional, you’re sending signals, but there’s no feedback,” Abrash says. “What can you imagine if you mix EMG and glove. And the point isn’t to literally emulate your hand. The point is that your hand is now a surface to respond to.”

But while EMG is now closer to being seen in actual technology, haptic gloves are still stuck in the testing lab. “We’ll probably have an input system that we’ll use all the time. I don’t know what it is, it could be that everyone puts on their gloves in the morning, like the Victorians did – you put on your gloves during the day, and It also has EMG,” Abrash says. “But EMG is this very powerful channel for your brain to express your desires in a completely frictionless way. And for me at AR, it’s hard to imagine how we’re going to beat this in any near time frame.” It’s technology that’s on the way to product — I can’t tell you when, but it’s not a matter of 10 years. With Haptic Gloves, it’s a research thing. And I can’t tell you when Will ship: It could be a matter of 10 years. And it really addresses a different set of needs. It’s not a way of expressing order, it’s actually a way of acting in the world.”

Meta sees the EMG as something like will soon knock in people’s homes, in other words. But we won’t see haptic gloves so soon.

rl-sean-keller

Sean Keller leads AR and VR interaction and input research at Reality Labs Research.

The Metaverse Seems Close, But It’s Not Fully Here Yet

Abrash says his research group is focused on goals far more distant than what Meta’s consumer products team is working on, and we shouldn’t expect to see haptic gloves around the corner. But he sees much of Meta’s vision as a work in progress, and haptics and future inputs are a big part of that.

Regarding his further work in relation to Mark Zuckerberg’s recent Metaverse promises, Abrash says, “We’ve been building the pillars on which to build any version of the Metaverse for more than seven years.” “If we had good avatars now, you and I would probably be doing this [chat] In VR, right? We’re just building on the underlying technology that the Metaverse can be built on, and that’s what we’ve always been doing. So the public Metaverse conversation came along, and my feeling was, “Great, I’m glad the world is catching on, it’s a good thing we’re preparing for it.”

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