While virtual reality (VR) is an immensely promising technology, the industry has yet to overcome its biggest usage hurdle: the so-called input problem. Most VR games right now rely on conventional control mechanisms for navigation and interaction, but while keys and joysticks may be well-suited to most mediums, they aren’t quite capable of the versatility VR demands. In fully immersive environments like the ones made possible by new headsets, wanting to touch — to reach out and manipulate things with your hands — is a natural inclination. That’s not yet feasible with commercially available tech, but students at Rice University are trying their hands at the problem, so to speak, with a solution all their own.
Hands Omni is a glove that lets the wearer “feel” objects in virtual reality. This is achieved with tiny inflatable pockets located underneath the surface of each finger, which act a little like air-based bladders: when a user grasps at a computerized object, triggers around the fingertips cause the pockets to pressurize, providing physical feedback. “When you reach out and grab a virtual object, it feels like you’re grabbing that object,” mechanical engineering student Thor Walker told Gizmag
The electronic glove, which functions without cables or wires, is still in the prototype phase — it weighs 350 ounces and must be wirelessly tethered to a computer to work. Still, the current Hands Omni impressed virtual reality peripheral maker Virtuix enough to earn a sponsorship from the company, which Walker says will be used to further development.
Commercialization seems at least a few months off, but that’ll give the engineers time to fine-tune support for upcoming headsets from Facebook, HTC, and others. The team’s keeping a number of details under wraps for now, as per the terms of their agreement with Virtuix. But rest assured that we’ll learn more if Hands Omni tech ever makes it into a consumer product.