Rumors abounded that Facebook were going to roll out their new Virtual Reality gloves at the Connect 2020 conference. The gloves have been in development collaboratively between Facebook’s Reality Labs team and Cornell University, and make use of 3D printing technology for precise and responsive construction.
As Reality Labs was founded by Facebook to oversee the VR development for their Oculus Rift gaming platform, it made sense that they could be revealed at Connect.
But how does 3D printing affect technology? And what is behind the surge in development and popularity of VR, given that it has been around for many years? Let’s take a closer look.
VR 3D printed gloves
Haptic gloves allow users to communicate directly with the computer or console they are attached to, using haptic technology. While they are popular with gamers, they are also used for complex simulations within medicine, allowing surgeons to practice intricate operations, reducing errors in the real world.
But for virtual reality gaming, advanced, responsive gloves can heighten the overall VR experience. These 3D printed VR gloves feature soft pneumatic actuators, which measure localized force and provide ‘haptic feedback’ for enhanced user experience.
As they are constructed from soft matter, they are shock absorbent and are better at handling load management and passive energy recapturing than gloves made from regular synthetic material. Cutting edge silicon rubber is perfect for robotics, as it can be twisted into any shape - traditional injection molding only yields simple, prismatic shapes.
A product that the Facebook developed glove could be compared with is the Teslasuit glove. Like the full-body haptic feedback suit Teslasuit produces, it is primarily aimed at the medical research, training, and rehabilitation sector. Able to simulate virtual textures and provide biometric data, it combines several different technologies to simultaneously create the impression of touching and holding objects.
But it isn’t likely to be a direct competitor for Facebook - with a $5,000 price tag it is a bit of a reach for gaming and entertainment.
The rise of VR
Although it has been around conceptually and in less advanced forms for decades, virtual reality has only recently blossomed from its niche status. This is in part because the technology itself has become cheaper, and therefore more widespread, and in turn, developers have returned to VR. The struggle for many years was to put the ‘reality’ into virtual reality, and now the tech can live up to its hype.
The COVID 19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns provided a new impetus for people and companies to explore VR. As entertainment and for more pressing concerns - in the UK, software company PTC is using Microsoft's HoloLens to offer training content in factories, so that producers can fast-track the learning process to build ventilators for the NHS. So, affordability and technological development has brought VR back to the fore.
VR for gamers
Virtual reality offers gamers as well an immersive experience, where they can affect the gameplay and environment they are playing in, through headsets, gloves, and other devices. VR games can be played on stand-alone systems, consoles, and PCs powerful enough to handle the leading VR headsets such as Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and Lenovo Mirage Solo.
There are also other forms of VR such as augmented reality (AR) and mixed reality (MR) where virtual elements are placed into the player's real-world as viewed through a headset or camera.
The market for VR games has really expanded greatly since about 2016. There are many which have been designed specifically for the technology, and wouldn’t work as a regular game, and many more which have been adapted from firm favorites.
Shoot ‘em ups are extremely popular, with titles such as Half-Life thrusting the player into an immersive, exhilarating battle. Card games and slot machines in VR are giving players the chance to experience the games they play on their mobiles within the atmospheric confines of a grand Las Vegas casino.
For Star Wars fans, Vader Immortal allows you to train as a Jedi master or follow the storyline, infiltrating Darth Vader’s lair as a lowly smuggler. Of course, many multiplayer options are available online, and as the technology becomes more widespread will become a distinctive part of gaming culture.
Virtual reality has finally come of age. And with highly advanced products such as Facebook’s VR gloves and Oculus Rift headsets - just about - on the market, its popularity seems sure to grow.