Facebook's PneuSleeve Offers Multimodal Haptic Feedback in a Soft, Compact, Wearable Sleeve

Designed with comfort in mind, Facebook sees a range of use cases for its haptic sleeve — including eyes-up navigation and VR gaming.

Staff at Facebook's research arm have published a paper describing a "haptic sleeve" device for sensing and stimulation, as part of the company's work into human-computer interaction and virtual reality.

"Integration of soft haptic devices into garments can improve their usability and wearability for daily computing interactions," the paper's abstract begins. "In this paper, we introduce PneuSleeve, a fabric-based, compact, and highly expressive forearm sleeve which can render a broad range of haptic stimuli including compression, skin stretch, and vibration.

"The haptic stimuli are generated by controlling pneumatic pressure inside embroidered stretchable tubes. The actuation configuration includes two compression actuators on the proximal and distal forearm, and four uniformly distributed linear actuators around and tangent to the forearm. Further, to ensure a suitable grip force, two soft mutual capacitance sensors are fabricated and integrated into the compression actuators, and a closed-loop force controller is implemented."

While a relatively simple-looking device created from soft fabrics and tubing, Facebook Research claims the PneuSleeve is capable of a range of different haptic feedback modes — including compression, skin stretch, and vibration. A capacitive soft force sensor is also included, allowing the device to act as an input sensor as well as haptic output.

While the device has potential as another tool for virtual reality, and gaming is one of the proposed use cases, the researchers claim its potential is broader: The PneuSleeve, they claim, when paired with tracking and communication technologies could be used to enhance user interfaces, for notifications from a mobile device, eyes-up navigation, to cue and guide movement during exercise, and even as a discrete and largely-silent communication device.

The team's work has been published as part of the Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems 2020 (CHI'20), and is available under open access terms on the Facebook Research website.

Gareth Halfacree
Freelance journalist, technical author, hacker, tinkerer, erstwhile sysadmin. For hire: freelance@halfacree.co.uk.
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