We use haptic feedback devices daily with smartphones that vibrate for notifications, and through controllers for video games and VR applications. Today’s virtual reality systems offer immersive worlds with simulated tangible objects that users can feel, at least to some extent. Larger objects such as walls, appliances, and even furniture are challenging to accomplish, primarily through a controller. Now engineers at Carnegie Mellon’s Future Interfaces Group have made that a reality with the Wireality haptic feedback device.
Wireality allows for individual joints on the hands to be arrested in 3D space through the use of programmable-locked retracting wires. Instead of motors, the system uses spring-loaded retractors similar to those found on some ID badges and keychains. An electrically controlled ratchet mechanism locks the strings to conform to the shape of complex objects in VR, and remain taught while interacting with the object to simulate its touch. The ingenious design takes advantage of the wearer’s upper body mass to provide the illusion of heavy or fixed objects, making them more lifelike.
The researchers experimented with numerous different strings and string placement, eventually finding the most effective solution was to attach a single string to each fingertip, one to the palm, and one to the wrist. The system also relies on a Leap Motion sensor, which is attached to a VR headset to track hand and finger motions.
When the sensor tracks the hand coming into contact with the virtual object, the ratchets are engaged in a specific sequence to represent that object’s shape, and then disengage when the user moves their hand away. According to the paper, Wireality weighs just under 10 ounces and costs than $50 to manufacture.