Engineers have found a way to make a virtual reality experience even more real. Using devices worn on the fingers, users can “feel” virtual objects while still being able to hold actual objects.

While augmented and virtual reality games and experiences are increasingly popular, they aren’t fully immersive. The technology allows users to hear and see but they cannot touch or feel what they are seeing. Making a device that can allow users to touch and feel can restrict the hands from holding an actual object.

A robotics engineer in Italy designed two devices that allow for users to feel virtual objects while in a VR experience. One of the devices goes over the fingertips and has three tiny motors that press against the fingertip. It is thin enough to allow for users to pick up real things at the same time. The second device is a ring that is worn high on the finger and uses motors to stretch the skin under the ring. The stretching combined with the visual feedback, tricks the brain into transferring the sensation to the fingertip. The devices do not inhibit the fingers from holding objects while wearing, allowing a person to, for example, hold a pen and draw in the VR world.

The possible applications span to medical technology, where it could help a surgeon perform operations, or communications where touch could happen over the internet.

Written by IEEE on May 17, 2017

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