Modern virtual reality tech is primarily geared towards a person’s sense of vision, but as far as feeling, smelling or even tasting them, that technology is not yet available. However, Microsoft has been working on a project that involves two hand-held controllers that enable individuals to feel the virtual world and not just see it.
A team from Microsoft recently published a whitepaper in which they explain that the two hand-held controls, named NormalTouch and TextureTouch, use actuators to translate virtual images into mechanical renditions. They can’t yet recreate the full virtual objects, but are able to recreate what passes under one finger.
NormalTouch uses a small platform attached to the controller to provide “haptic and force feedback,” when an individual moves their finger over the VR scenario. Furthermore, NormalTouch can also simulate force within the virtual world, allowing you to push virtual objects around a platform.
TextureTouch works in a similar way, but instead of NormalTouch’s tiltable platform, this controller uses a 4×4 matrix of actuated pins. By moving each pin based on the object beneath it, the controller can simulate the texture of multiple objects.
Current commercial VR systems stimulate the eyes and ears, but touch sensation is no more than the vibrations of traditional game controllers. Microsoft studies discovered that their ability to simulate touching objects significantly increased the accuracy of VR interaction, improving on the overall user experience.
It remains to be seen whether NormalTouch and TextureTouch will ever be available for purchase. What we know for sure is that some of the biggest players in tech are making progress in producing full sensory virtual reality environments. It’s only a matter of time before fully functional prototypes are created and sent to mass market.
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