VR Device Replicates Touch
- By Dian Schaffhauser
new virtual reality device from a team of Carnegie
researchers allows users to feel walls and solid objects. The
invention, dubbed "Wireality," uses multiple string-loaded
cables attached to the hand and fingers to simulate the sensation of
solidity. When a user's hand is close to a wall in the virtual
environment, for example, the strings are locked in place to emulate
the sensation of touching the wall. Similar actions enable the user
to feel the surface of an irregular object, sense resistance when he
or she pushes up against something or interact physically with a
haptic device uses modular, spring-loaded cables controlled by a
shoulder-mounted device running on batteries. The lead researcher on
the project was Cathy Fang, who will graduate from the university
with a dual degree in mechanical engineering and human-computer
think the experience creates surprises, such as when you interact
with a railing and can wrap your fingers around it," Fang said,
in a statement. "It's also fun to explore the feel of irregular
objects, such as a statue."
paper published by the Conference on Human Factors in Computing
(CHI 2020) and placed in the Association for Computing Machinery's
digital library, user evaluation of the multistring device declared
it more realistic than other haptic techniques. While other research
projects have used strings to create haptic feedback in virtual
worlds, they have typically used motors to control the strings. The
CMU researchers envisioned a system light enough to be worn by the
user and affordable for consumers.
downside to motors is they consume a lot of power," said Fang.
"They also are heavy."
a motor substitute, Wireality uses spring-loaded retractors, such as
those found on key chains or ID badges. A ratchet mechanism can be
rapidly locked through electronic controls. The springs themselves,
not motors, tighten the strings, requiring just a small amount of
electrical power, provided by the batteries.
Leap Motion (now UltraLeap)
sensor, attached to the VR headset, tracks hand and finger motions.
When the sensor senses that a user's hand is in proximity to a
virtual wall or other object, the ratchets engage in a sequence
relevant to the interaction. When the user withdraws his or her hand,
the latches disengage.
weighs about 10 ounces and would cost about $50 to produce in large
quantities, making it suitable, according to Fang, for VR games and
other experiences involve interaction with the physical world.
research team has made a video that explains the device and how it
Dian Schaffhauser is a senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning. She can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @schaffhauser.