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Oculus Tech to Let You Feel Virtual Objects - No Gloves Required

Jul 16, 2016 08:15 AM EDT

Oculus started the current virtual reality tech race with its much-hyped Rift headset, and it's not stopping there. The Facebook-backed company is developing an experimental interface that may someday allow you to touch and feel objects in the virtual world - with ungloved hands.

Called HapticWave, the project is not yet slated for commercial production, and there's a possibility that it never will be. But if Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is serious about his plan to create a Matrix-like game world called the Metaverse (as reported by Fast Co.Design), then he is going to need the HapticWave technology - or something like it.

The tech creates touch feedback via vibrations, which are generated from a circular metal plate that goes over a ring of electromagnet actuators. You place your bare hand above the center of the plate, where you can feel the vibrations from the actuators, hopefully creating the illusion of touch. No gloves required.

"The plate, which looks like a turntable, relies on the actuators to produce bending waves sent from specific directions, while accelerometers sense what's happening on the plate and send feedback that can be used to adjust the actuators," notes MIT Technology Review. To project the illusion of something heavy striking another object, the actuators will send out low-frequency vibrations. Conversely, they will emit high-frequency waves to simulate light objects interacting.

To enhance the illusion further, users are also equipped with a headset providing spatial audio, also known as 3-D audio, "which is the virtual placement of sound in a three dimensional environment emulating sounds from different angles," according to Android Authority.

The HapticWave team has come up with a few demos that give one an idea of what it would be like to use the interface along with the Oculus Rift headset. One demo that is reminiscent of Pong features an animated ball bouncing across a table. Working in tandem with the VR viewer, the vibrating HapticWave tech gives one a better sense of the ball's movement.

This and other demos will be on hand to showcase HapticWave at the SIGGRAPH 2016 computer graphics conference, happening on July 24-28 in Anaheim, CA.

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