Skip to main content

Oh, what a feeling! Microsoft Research demos tactile virtual reality controller

Microsoft Research: NormalTouch and TextureTouch
One thing that can quickly disrupt the immersion of a virtual reality experience is reaching out to touch an object and not being able to. Now, a Microsoft Research team has demonstrated technology that allows users to run their fingers over virtual objects and feel a mechanically actuated rendition of their shape.

While the haptic feedback currently used in many VR experiences is similar to the rumbling of traditional video game controllers, Microsoft’s NormalTouch and TextureTouch relay a little bit more information to the user. Rather than attempt a full physical re-creation of virtual objects, these peripherals just replicate what is passing under the player’s pointer finger at a given time.

The NormalTouch uses a tiltable, extrudable platform to haptically render the surface of an object, according to a report from MS Power User. The TextureTouch uses a matrix of 16 actuated pins to give an accurate representation of the textural qualities of an object.

Both controllers have their motions monitored by the OptiTrack tracking system. The team has been using an Oculus Rift DK2 headset to test the technology.

These devices offer many different ways for users to interact with their surroundings within a virtual environment. One test demonstrates the NormalTouch peripheral being used to differentiate between three deformable objects with varying levels of surface thickness.

Hardware like this could offer intriguing new possibilities for developers working in the VR space. While Oculus and Valve both have specialized controllers in the works, neither project offers the same capacity for a tactile connection with in-game objects.

It remains to be seen how feasible these additional peripherals would be in real-world circumstances. Consumers will no doubt be wary of buying yet more hardware for their VR set-up, and there’s little indication of how much this technology would cost to implement as a retail product.

Editors' Recommendations

Brad Jones
Brad is an English-born writer currently splitting his time between Edinburgh and Pennsylvania. You can find him on Twitter…
Microsoft unveils Mesh, and with James Cameron, dives into mixed reality
James Cameron holoport with Microsoft's Alex Kippman

James Cameron "holoports" to join Microsoft's Alex Kipman on stage at Microsoft Ignite 2021. Microsoft

Events have been going virtual for a full year now, with the pandemic preventing physical meetings and forcing companies to innovate. But no one’s taken it quite as far as Microsoft Ignite -- which just introduced us to an avatar of the guy who made Avatar.

Read more
Hands-on with Microsoft Mesh: I handed someone a whale shark, and it was awesome
microsoft mesh hands on hololens control panel

There’s a fantastic scene in Kingsman: The Golden Circle in which Eggsy and the other leaders of the secret spy agency (Channing Tatum, too, of course) assemble around a board room table -- except they're not really there.  Each and every one of them is a hologram, thanks to incredible technology stuffed into a pair of ordinary-looking eyeglasses.

It’s a common trope in cinema, something James Bond and Ethan Hunt have used as well. And it simply isn’t possible with today’s augmented reality technology.

Read more
Microsoft Flight Simulator latest mode doesn’t take full advantage of VR’s potential
A plane landing at sunset.

I still remember my first plane ride. It was a two-hour journey from the U.K. to Menorca, one of Spain’s Balearic Islands, for a family holiday. The entire trip was a profoundly new experience for a then-six-year-old me that created sun-soaked memories to last a lifetime. Yet, for my parents, the one memory that gets called back the most is my childish mispronunciation of “turbulence” when my then short, short life flashed before my eyes on the way there.

For many, their first trip up in the skies would be the ideal route to retread for a Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 maiden voyage. I instead opted for a blissfully uneconomical eight-minute cruise from my hometown of Manchester to the neighboring city of Liverpool to the west. I wasn’t expecting to make it off the ground, and while I did, the experience gave me a crash course in how VR both helps and hinders the experience in a way only emerging tech can.

Read more