It has been said that if you want to understand someone else’s experiences, then you need to walk a mile in their shoes. A group of engineers centered at the University of Chicago might lead you to wonder if we should be wearing their gloves on that walk as well.
The group, led by Jun Nishida, has developed an exoskeleton built into a glove, named HandMorph, that simulates the experience of having a smaller grasping range. Mechanical links attach the wearer’s fingers to five anatomically correct rubber fingers. Haptic feedback is transmitted from the rubber fingers, through the mechanical links, to the wearer to provide a more realistic sensory experience. In addition to restricting grasping range with the exoskeleton, a wire that hooks the wearer’s belt loop to the glove restricts reaching range.
One of the primary use cases mentioned was for product designers to be able to change their grasping range to that of a child’s, in order to evaluate toy prototypes.
To assess the device, a trial was conducted in which participants were asked to do a number of grasping-related tasks in which they manipulated objects with HandMorph, and also with their own hands, while keeping their eyes closed. Participants were found to report objects as being larger than they actually were when using HandMorph, confirming the perception-altering ability of the device.
In a second study, participants were recruited to design a children’s toy. The participants reported a greater confidence in their final design as a result of being able to test it with HandMorph.
The current device is of a fixed size, and does not ergonomically fit all possible users. The engineers hope to address this shortcoming in the future by making use of variable-length linkages, or producing exoskeletons tailored to each user. Another issue with the design is that a wearer can see the glove hiding their own fingers, which reduces the perception of a transformed grip. A few options were discussed to mitigate this problem with virtual reality or projection systems, but they do not sound particularly realistic, so this area will need further exploration.