7 min read

Virtual Reality is evolving at a staggering rate. Some of the humankind’s most exciting tools and technologies are coming to the Virtual reality Space. One such technology which is taking over the VR world and making it more powerful is the VR haptics technology.

VR Haptics technology offers an extra dimension to the VR world by letting users feel the virtual environment via the sense of touch, in addition to visual and aural perception. It makes you feel truly immersive in the artificial world. Imagine yourself in a desert seeing the sand and feeling it glide under your feet as you walk.

It uses external devices like Gloves, Shoes, Joysticks, etc, via which users can receive feedback in the form of vibrations from these computer applications. This feedback provides physical sensations in the hand or other parts of the body. It also provides a realistic simulation of the movements and behaviors, similar to those realized in the real world.

VR Haptics: a growing domain

The VR haptics technology is growing beyond creating vibrations in game controllers. Now, in the near future, you might able to cuddle a dog and feel it licking your face in the VR world. This speaks volumes about the pace at which the haptic technology is growing.

One famous example which discusses modern VR is the popular sci-fi novel “Ready Player One”. It illustrates the possibilities of haptic technology in the future. The novel explores the journey of a guy as he sets foot into a virtual reality simulator (OASIS). He uses a headset and a pair of gloves to maneuver around the virtual world.

Apart from the gloves, a lot of future concept products are also covered in the novel which makes the illusion of immersion easier to picture, such as towers emitting smells in the VR world and Wind/Temperature generators that mimic real-life.

Haptics came about just as head mounted displays (HMD) came to light in the 2010s. HMDs allowed people to see the virtual reality while haptic feedback gave people the opportunity to experience the virtual world and to act within it. Texture, temperature, pressure, taste, smell and other non-visual sensory inputs became real in VR. Apart from virtual reality games and apps, Haptics feedback is used widely in personal computers, mobile devices, robots, and more.

But, in this article, we’ll stick to the use of haptic technology or haptic feedback in the VR space. Usually, most VR users use Touch Controllers for haptic feedback. But, recently, a lot of third-party companies are coming out with products such as gloves for systems like the Oculus Rift & HTC Vive.

Here is a list of recent developments in the haptic technology for the VR world.

Super affordable VR Haptic gloves by Plexus

Most of the currently available options in the VR haptics field are somewhat pricey but earlier this month, Plexus announced their new product, a VR haptic and sensor glove.

Source: Plexus

Key features

  • Plexus VR haptics gloves offer a fully modular tracking solution which is capable of tracking up to 0.01 degrees of precision.
  • These gloves are capable of individual finger tracking as well as tracking each joint on the finger, thereby, offering higher precision in the VR world.
  • It is compatible with the HTC Vive, Oculus Rift as well as Windows Mixed Reality devices.
  • The VR haptic gloves also come with additional adapter plates.

The development kit version of the Plexus haptic gloves, priced at $249 per glove pair, can be pre-ordered on the official Plexus Website. The company will begin shipping in August 2018 but at the moment, shipping is only available to USA, Europe, Canada and Australia.

Kaaya Tech’s full body tracking HoloSuit

Kaaya came out with a motion capture (MoCap) suit called HoloSuit, last month, which offers motion capture as well as haptic feedback.

HoloSuit is the world’s first affordable, wireless, easy to use, bi-directional, full body motion capture suit. User’s entire body movement data is captured by Holosuit and it uses haptic feedback to send information back to the user.

 Source: HoloSuit

It can be used in various areas such as sports, healthcare, education, entertainment or industrial operations.

Key Features

  • The HoloSuit consists of 36 embedded sensors in the pro version and 26 embedded sensors in the less complex version. Embedded sensors carry out all the work of capturing body motion which is necessary for world-scale tracking.
  • It also consists of 9 haptic feedback devices, and 6 embedded firing buttons ( buttons that govern specific tasks such as saving the game, pausing, etc ) which are dispersed across both arms, legs, and all the ten fingers.
  • It delivers data wirelessly either through Wifi or Bluetooth LE to a VR setup by using Unity or a Wi-Fi SDK.
  • The HoloSuit doesn’t come with an external camera tracking option.
  • It supports all the major platforms such as Windows, macOS, iOS, and Android devices.

A complete HoloSuit is quite expensive and starts at a regular price of $999. Jacket and Jersey are priced at $499, jersey or track pants for $399, and a pair of gloves are available for $799. HoloSuit Pro is priced at $1,599. Shipping for the full body VR haptic HoloSuit will start this November.

Disney’s VR Haptic “Force Jacket”

Disney came out with their VR haptic jacket, namely, “Force Jacket” back in April. It provides users with precisely directed force along with a high-frequency vibration which is felt against the user’s upper body in sync with the visual medium. The prototype is made out of a converted life jacket and is provided with 26 airbags.

  Source: DisneyResearchHub

The Force Jacket is created by engineers at Disney Research, MIT and Carnegie Mellon University.

Key Features

  • The Haptic Jacket uses an air compressor and a vacuum pump. These air compartments in the jacket can be inflated to exert a force on the user’s body relative to force sensitive resistors.
  • 26 air compartments are activated using microcontrollers for either pressure or vibrotactile feedback or both.
  • Controllers are used to activating the solenoid valves which are connected to the vacuum.
  • There are certain Jacket inflation parameters like speed, force, and duration which are specified using the haptic effects editor.
  • The jacket makes use of the motion interface to sequentially inflate the compartments for simulating motion across the body.

Each airbag within the haptic jacket can be influenced to mimic sensations such as being hit in the chest by a snowball, getting tapped on the shoulder, lime dripping on their back, getting punched in the side, and a snake coiling its body around the user.

The jacket is mainly to be used in the entertainment and gaming industry and is not available for the consumer market. But, it seems to have great potential in the future for other applications as well.

VR gloves by Haptx

Haptx announced a pair of VR gloves back in November of last year. The gloves use micro-pneumatics technology for detailed haptics and force feedback (the ability to restrict your fingers’ movement to simulate holding objects) in the fingers.

Source: HaptX

Key Features

  • It features technology that enables it to provide 100 points of tactile displacement feedback.
  • It offers up to five pounds of resistance per finger.
  • It also comes with sub-millimeter precision motion tracking
  • The glove uses SDK of HaptX’s design, which is created by using Unreal Engine’s physics system. This tells the glove when and where it needs to apply haptic effects as well as when and how to engage the force feedback.

No information on pricing or worldwide availability has been released by the company yet. But, it is rumored to launch the VR gloves for the consumer market sometime later this year.

Apart from these products, there are other minor advancements that keep happening in the VR haptics space. For example, Heather Culbertson, Assistant Professor of USC’s computer department, recently created a haptic armband which is capable of mimicking the sensation of a human touch.

VR aims to provide you with an environment where you feel truly immersive and where you can feel the objects as in the real world. These products are bringing the VR world a step closer to achieve richer levels of immersive experiences.

Gone are the days when haptic feedback was limited to just vibrating controllers and joysticks. As the technology advances, the whole new world of VR haptic devices is here to make your VR experience as seamlessly immersive as possible. In fact, some people even believe that without Haptics, VR is nothing but a picture and a sound.

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Tech writer at the Packt Hub. Dreamer, book nerd, lover of scented candles, karaoke, and Gilmore Girls.


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