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NUS VR Glove Offers More Realistic Sense of Touch

Image credit: National University of Singapore

Researchers from the National University of Singapore (NUS) have created the HaptGlove, a lightweight, untethered haptic glove for virtual environments. It aims to provide a more realistic and authentic sense of touch and movement when interacting with virtual objects, enhancing the overall immersive experience in virtual reality (VR).

While the concept of haptic gloves is not new, current technologies have limitations in providing a realistic sense of touch, according to a press statement. Vibration motors in typical haptic gloves cannot replicate the real-world sense of touch like the hardness and shape of virtual objects. Other haptic gloves utilise pneumatic actuators that generate pressure but are bulky and restrict user movement.

The team’s research leader, Lim Chwee Teck, explained that virtual reality should not only be a visual and auditory experience but also enable interactions with virtual objects. However, current methods of interacting with virtual objects, such as pressing on a virtual panel or interacting with avatars, lack the sensation of touch found in the real world. This prompted the team to develop the haptic glove, which aims to provide the sensation of a “physical” touch in the virtual world.

HaptGlove is a portable and highly flexible haptic glove that enables users to have immersive touch and feel of VR objects with unparalleled realism in the VR experience. It incorporates lightweight pneumatic control and the team’s latest microfluidic sensing technology, which significantly reduces its size and weight, and eliminates the need for bulky accessories.

It enables users to interact with the virtual world in a more natural and realistic way, providing an unobtrusive and immersive experience in virtual reality. It features five pairs of haptic feedback modules, one for each finger, which are controlled wirelessly to sense the virtual object in terms of shape, size, and stiffness.

When using HaptGlove, users can sense contact as their avatar’s hand touches, grasps, and manipulates virtual objects by using a microfluidic pneumatic indenter to deliver real-time pressure to the user’s fingertips. The glove can also simulate the shape and stiffness of the object the avatar is touching, by restricting finger positions, adding realism to the virtual interaction experience.

HaptGlove uses proprietary software developed by the NUS research team to achieve a visual-haptic delay of fewer than 20 milliseconds. This is faster than conventional haptic gloves and provides a near-real-time user experience. The latest prototype is also more comfortable to wear, weighing only 250 grams, much lighter than commercially available haptic gloves that weigh over 450 grams.

The HaptGlove project was initiated by Lim and his team in 2019 and it took two years to develop a prototype. To evaluate the device’s performance, a group of 20 users was recruited to wear the glove to sort four virtual balls of varying stiffness in the virtual world. Apart from achieving over 90% accuracy in completing the tasks, the users said that HaptGlove significantly enhanced realism in VR and improved their overall experience, compared to devices using vibration motors.

Besides gaming, the HaptGlove could be used in applications in the fields of medicine and education, such as assisting surgeons to better prepare for an operation by simulating a hyper-realistic environment or giving students a hands-on learning experience by simulating palpation on different body parts.

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