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Get a grip, bub: Wolverine haptic device lets you grasp objects in VR

Creating a realistic immersive effect in virtual reality is more than just high-end graphics. As creators push the boundaries of interaction within the virtual space, questions like how best to simulate physical sensations require serious thought.

That is the goal of Wolverine, a mobile wearable haptic device that is intended to replicate the sensation of grasping rigid objects in virtual or augmented reality. Developed by a team of researchers in the Shape Lab at Stanford University, it is a neat solution that improves on many glove-style haptic devices by ditching the concept of bulky electric motors for generating force feedback.

“The biggest change with the Wolverine [is] the way users interact in [the] virtual environment,” researcher Inrak Choi told Digital Trends. “We used to rely on traditional game controllers with buttons to interact with virtual objects. With the ability of finger tracking and force feedback, the Wolverine will make people interact in a more natural or intuitive way, as we do in real world.”

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The wearable device — which somewhat resembles the character Wolverine’s claws from the X-Men comics and movies — simulates different objects a user might grasp in virtual reality by rendering a force directly between the thumb and three fingers.

Using low-power, brake-based locking sliders, it can withstand more than 100 newtons of force between each finger and thumb, while only consuming 0.87 joules of energy for every braking interaction. The device can stretch, lock or relax its sliders to give the effect of virtual objects with a wide range of dimensions.

It is true that Wolverine is not the most high-end haptic interface we have come across, nor are Choi and his fellow researchers the only people to attack this particular problem. However, it is an affordable solution which manages to be a whole lot lighter-weight than some of its rivals — which definitely works in its favor.

Choi also has plenty of ideas about where to take the project next.

“Currently the Wolverine can only generate a rigid stiffness, so it can only render rigid virtual objects,” he said. “The next step will be thinking about how to generate [a] soft feeling, while [retaining the fact that it is] lightweight and low-cost. We always need to keep in mind both engineering and practical aspects.”