In a February post, Mark Zuckerberg teased a new form of Oculus VR hardware while detailing his visit to the Oculus Research Lab in Redmond, WA, praising the developing “technology that lets you interact with the virtual world just like you do with the physical one.”
The accompanying photo gallery included a shot of Zuckerberg gleefully making some Spidey gestures while wearing a pair of white gloves, but not much additional information has been released since.
We’re working on new ways to bring your hands in virtual and augmented reality. Wearing these gloves, you can draw…www.facebook.com
Per a July 24th blog post by Oculus VR’s Chief Scientist Michael Abrash, it seems the tech giant is finally ready to reveal a bit more about the gloves. Abrash begins by explaining the the current state of obstacles and opportunities within audio, visual and haptics development for VR applications.
“Haptics is particularly challenging. The haptics that would matter most would be for the hands, which are our primary means of interaction with the world, and which rely on haptics for their feedback loop. All we can do right now is produce crude vibrations and forms of resistance. Someday, perhaps there will be some sort of glove or exoskeleton that can let us interact naturally with virtual objects, but that’s a true research problem.”
He offers the following video as an example of what “perfect” hand tracking would look like:
But, he goes on to confess, we aren’t quite there yet.
“Unfortunately, hands have about 25 degrees of freedom and lots of self-occlusion. Right now, retroreflector-covered gloves and lots of cameras are needed to get to this level of tracking quality.”
TL;DR this isn’t feasible for the consumer market just yet, and as far as we know, it probably won’t be until 2018. Oculus isn’t releasing any new hardware for the rest of the year, and the Touch controllers have been anointed as the pre-eminent Oculus apparatus via a sweetheart summer bundling deal that includes the Oculus Rift + Touch for $399.
Most consider VR’s potential largely untapped until reliable haptics are added to the input matrix, and it’s not difficult to see why. Sure the public has an obvious desire for the type of immersive fantasy depicted in Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One, to be released next year as feature motion picture directed by none other than Steven Spielberg, but beyond the applications in entertainment, haptics hold the key to accelerating human progress across a staggering swath of industries and endeavors.
Students at Georgia Tech have demonstrated how haptics can passively teach someone to play the piano in under an hour, and help improve hand sensation for partial spinal cord injury patients in rehabilitative therapy.
Oculus isn’t the only company working on haptic gloves, nor does it have a monopoly on the technical aspects of making them work.
Crowdfunded haptics product Gloveone by NeuroDigital Technologies uses 10 actuators to simulate “touch sensations” which, if we’re being honest, sounds a little wishy-washy for something that only has a 4 hour battery life and doesn’t look cool.
Virtuix, creator of the Omni VR Treadmill and its attendant SWAT-team style games that I nearly killed myself playing the first time I tried them (despite that, they’re awesome), is also taking a crack at haptics gloves, partnering up with a student lab at Rice University.
By the lab’s own admission, these gloves aren’t ready for the big time and won’t be for a while. They’re more Power Glove from The Wizard than haptics glove a la Ready Player One.
That doesn’t necessarily mean that progress is stalled, though: the Knuckles controller for SteamVR (which I’ve demo’d) includes individual finger tracking, which is one of the foremost practical motivations to achieve “perfect” haptic feedback, and a popularly requested feature by gamers. Capacitative sensors throughout the device to determine if individual digits are straightened, curled, or somewhere in between.
Unfortunately, Knuckles are not yet available to the public, and is currently being shipped only in limited quantities to VR developers.