Singapore researchers develop glove with ‘enhanced’ virtual touch

HaptGlove uses haptic feedback to enhance users’ virtual experience. (Source: NUS)

Researchers at the National University of Singapore (NUS) are making gloves that allow users to more realistically experience the “feel” of objects in virtual environments. Touting the creation as different from existing technology, they say the HaptGlove applies real-time pressure to the fingertips and simulates the texture of objects.

The glove uses haptic feedback and pneumatic control embedded in the researchers’ microfluidic sensor technology. According to the NUS team, this helps reduce the size and weight of the glove without the need for bulky accessories.

HaptGlove features five pairs of haptic feedback modules, one for each finger, that are wirelessly controlled to read the VR object in terms of its shape, size and texture. A microfluidic pneumatic indenter applies real-time pressure to the wearer’s fingertips, allowing them to “feel” contact as the avatar touches, grasps, and moves the VR object. The glove further constrains the wearer’s finger positions to simulate the shape and texture of the object.

The NUS researchers found that while haptic gloves were not new, the products currently on the market typically used vibration motors and did not convey a realistic sense of touch. For example, they could not accurately simulate the shape or hardness of a VR (Virtual Reality) object.

Others used pneumatic actuators to create a feeling of pressure, but these were often bulky in design and restricted user movement.

“My experience with VR and the metaverse has always been unsatisfying,” said Lim Chwee Teck, director of the NUS Institute for Healthcare Innovation and Technology, who leads the research team. “VR shouldn’t just be about a visual and audio experience, it should be about the ability to interact with VR objects. However, current methods of pressing on a virtual panel or interacting with another avatar lack the touch that we experience in the real world.”

Using the software developed by the researchers, HaptGlove achieves a visual-haptic delay of less than 20 milliseconds, which NUS says is faster than traditional haptic gloves. Weighing in at 250 grams, it’s also lighter than competing products on the market that weigh 450 grams.

HaptGlove was first conceived in 2019 and two years later a prototype was developed, with 20 users participating to test the product.

The NUS researchers have applied for a patent and aim to commercialize the glove within two years, with the aim of doing so at half the price of products currently sold on the market, which typically range from SG$5,000 (US$3,786) to SG$20,000 SG$ (US$15,145) ).

Efforts here are being led by the university’s spinoff unit Microtube Technologies, which focuses on developing sensor technologies for games and the Metaverse.

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