Gaming glove puffs up to make virtual reality feel real

Pressure from bladders underneath the fingers make virtual reality more real for gamers who may someday be able to "feel" the objects they encounter through the new glove. (Credit: Jeff Fitlow/Rice)

Engineering students have invented a glove that lets a user feel what they’re touching while gaming.

The Hands Omni glove, developed at Rice University’s Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen, could provide a way for gamers and others to feel the environments they inhabit in virtual reality.

The prototype glove is intended to provide force feedback to the fingertips as players touch, press, or grip objects in the virtual world.

“What we’ve made is a glove that uses air to inflate bladders underneath your fingers, so you can hook this up to a video game and when you reach out and grab a virtual object, it feels like you’re actually grabbing that object,” says mechanical engineering student Thor Walker.

The glove (right-handed only at the moment) is designed to be as unobtrusive as possible, and is wireless to allow the player a full range of motion without having to worry about cables.

The fingers feel pressure from bladders in the glove’s fingertips that expand and contract as necessary. The team’s agreement with its sponsor, Virtuix, a Houston gaming technology company, means the glove’s underlying technology must remain under wraps, but they say programmers should find it fairly simple to implement the glove’s protocols into their games and other projects.

The fingers are individually addressable, though pressure on the ring and little fingers is triggered as one unit in the prototype. “It’s not very often you pick something up with just your pinkie,” says electrical engineering student Marissa Garcia.

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The entire glove weighs around 350 grams, light enough to keep the player from noticing it, even after a while. “We had our own constraints based on testing to determine the amount of perceptible weight that could be strapped to your fingers, arms, legs, and limbs—the maximum weight that is perceptible to users—and we came up with 660 grams on the forearm and much less than that on the back of the hand or on the fingers,” says mechanical engineering student Kevin Koch.

“We wanted as much mass as far back on the hand as possible, and that’s exactly what we’re doing,” he says. “The user will hardly know it’s there.”

The team worked with faculty advisers Fathi Ghorbel, professor of mechanical engineering and bioengineering, and Marcia O’Malley, professor of mechanical engineering and computer science.

Source: Rice University