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Scientists create gloves that let you ‘touch’ virtual objects

Photo by École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne

The lines between the real world and the virtual world become more blurred every day.

Researchers at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne have revealed their design for an “ultralight” pair of gloves that allow users to “feel” virtual objects. A video describing the gloves can be seen below:

Basic prototypes of virtual tactile feedback technology have been developed in the past, but they were always bogged down by their massive bulky exoskeletons and power sources. The EFPL’s ultralight gloves are very light and flexible, weighing just 8 grams per finger. (That’s half as heavy as a CD.) The energy required to power the gloves is incredibly small, needing only a small few-milliWatt battery.

The lightness of the glove highlights its form, as it’s designed to feel as natural and unintrusive as possible. In order to simulate grasping and feeling a virtual object, metal bars inside the fingers of the gloves connect and stop the fingers from moving. Basically, instead of simulating movement, the gloves simulate the blocking of movement. By adjusting the tension of the fingers (which can apply up to 40 Newtons of force) the gloves can simulate the feeling of hard, solid objects like cups or soft, more malleable objects like sponges.

The possible applications of these gloves are numerous. Obviously, the first thing that comes to mind is video games, as these gloves would significantly enhance the immersion of VR games. Currently, no similar technology exists in the video gaming market. It’s not quite “Ready Player One,” but it’s a step in the right direction.

Additionally, the gloves could be used to help medical students practice complex and precise operations such as surgery.

The researchers are hoping to develop similar technology for other parts of the body after the gloves are completed. Imagine being able to “cuddle” a baby in another country or arm-wrestle with The Rock from the comfort of your couch. The possibilities are endless.

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