Four Microsoft Research staff built two new types of VR controllers to use pressure and textures in VR
As virtual reality becomes mainstream users need to believe they are immersed in digital worlds. VR setups have to convince as many human senses as possible that what they see is real.
To help crack this problem Microsoft has created additional hand controllers that allow users to touch and feel virtual worlds. A team from the firm's Natural Interaction Research group built two devices: NormalTouch and TextureTouch.
The team of four researchers – Hrvoje Benko, Christian Holz, Mike Sinclair and Eyal Ofek, all working in the US – say the peripherals were made to increase the number of senses used while exploring VR. In a paper published alongside a video of the devices the researchers say haptic (touch) feedback "significantly improves" the VR experience.
"We present an investigation of mechanically-actuated handheld controllers that render the shape of virtual objects through physical shape displacement, enabling users to feel 3D surfaces, textures, and forces that match the visual rendering," the team writes in the paper.
NormalTouch uses a small 'platform' connected to the handset to provide haptic and force feedback. The object is attached via a series of small legs and moves according to the surface it passes over in the virtual world.
Credit: Microsoft Research
In the video example, Microsoft's researchers show a person using VR to pass their 'finger' over a small pebble-like object. As they do so, the NormalTouch connection raises and moves in the same way a finger would when passing over a physical object.
NormalTouch is also able to act as an input device for those in VR. A finger placed on top of the accompanying platform can push it down to create a forceful touch – by pressing harder the device can recognise the amount of pressure being exerted. The video shows the Microsoft researchers using one finger to move a virtual ball around.
The second development by Microsoft, TextureTouch, is comprised of a series of moving pins. The array of pins sit under the holder's fingertip and move when a virtual object is passed over. Microsoft says that by moving the pins based on an object beneath them, it is able to simulate textures of different objects.
The controllers were created using an optical tracking system, which monitors their movements around a room (much like the HTC Vive). They were tested with a developer model of the Oculus Rift.