Meta has been working on a pair of haptic gloves that allow you to touch in VR, intended for the metaverse.
We were always going to get to this stage – technology that allows you to feel in a virtual environment, as if the objects you’re touching are real. It appears to be a priority for Facebook, I mean Meta, and its Research Labs division, which focuses on long-term research and innovation.
Up until now, it was all headsets, glasses and talk of a ‘metaverse’, which we still don’t really know the point of, but we’ll get there. At some point. Maybe. Now, strides are being made to make that virtual world feel as real as possible.
“The value of hands to solving the interaction problem in AR and VR is immense,” says Research Labs director Sean Keller. “We use our hands to communicate with others, to learn about the world, and to take action within it.
“We can take advantage of a lifetime of motor learning if we can bring full hand presence into AR and VR.”
In the video above, a person sits in a chair, with the haptic glove on their hand, which responds to the physical inputs of coming in contact with an object in a virtual environment.
The glove responds to the texture and weight programmed into the object by triggering actuators (little motors) in the glove, which applies pressure to the hand of the user, simulating the feeling of an object.
It’s a basic example, right? A ball with specific programmed values to which the glove responds with its specifically programmed motors. Basic now, but the haptic glove has a lot of potential.
A more detailed example Meta puts forward is being able to do a puzzle in a 3D environment with your friend, and feeling the texture and weight of the cardboard puzzle piece against your fingertip.
That does sound kind of cool, all credit due, but in a work environment, it’s largely pointless. Sure, immersion is an enormous part of video games (off which the metaverse is largely based) and being able to feel objects in a video game would be kind of cool – but Meta’s metaverse implications for this glove are unclear.
Meta says it’s currently impractical to wear the haptic glove all day due to heat concerns from the actuators, but why would you want to wear this all day? It’s hard to play anything VR for more than a couple of hours, so what exactly does Meta expect you to do all day with this sci-fi glove?
Also, not to be a fear-mongering luddite, but what if somebody hacks in and cranks the physical values of an object you’re interacting with? In terms of online gaming, this could be a concern. In the wrong circumstances (if the glove were strong enough and if security isn’t tight enough), somebody could be hurt.
Regardless, this research is cool – but it’s still early days. Whether or not we find a need for touching objects that don’t exist, we’ll let you know if the haptic glove story develops.