by Gene Turnbow, station manager

Rice University engineering students in their Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen are working on a new way to interact with objects in virtual reality simulations and games. Their invention is a glove that lets gamers actually feel what they’re trying to touch in game. The Hands Omni glove is meant to be used along with 3D heads up displays or virtual reality head mounted displays such as the Oculus Rift. It was just introduced at the George R. Brown School of Engineering Design Showcase, and was developed with the help of a game technology company in Houston called Virtuix, already famous for their Omni VR Treadmill. The end result is a glove that gives you a sense of touch in the virtual world.

Unlike previous attempts at haptic, or “force feekback” devices to provide a sense of touch, this one doesn’t use little levers or vibrators run by electric motors. Instead, it uses air  to inflate little bladders under your fingertips.

Little air-powered pressure pads provide a sense of touch.

Little air-powered pressure pads provide a sense of touch.

The student engineering team consists of Thor Walker, mechanical engineering students Kevin Koch, Kevin Gravesmill and Yi Ji and electrical engineering students Marissa Garcia and Julia Kwok. Their faculty advisers are Fathi Ghorbel, professor of mechanical engineering and bioengineering, and Marcia O’Malley, professor of mechanical engineering and computer science. The project won the “People’s Choice” award at Rice’s recent Engineering Design Showcase.

The glove is designed to be as noninvasive as possible, and it’s wireless to give the player a full range of motion without having to worry about cables. The exact manner of operation has to remain a secret due to the team’s agreement with the sponsor, who hopes to exploit it commercially. That said, they say programmers should find it fairly easy to implement the glove’s protocols into their games and projects.

The entire glove weighs in at a mere 350 grams. That’s light enough to wear it for extended periods and not notice it. “You’ll hardly notice it’s there,” said Koch (no relation to the controversial public figures). Looking at the protype in action in the video, that seems hard to believe  – but it is a prototype, and you know how these things go. It’s about on the same level as Google Cardboard in terms of its evolution as a finished product design. They’re sure to refine the design from its current bulky prototype status.

We see a convergence happening. Little pieces are being built, and the basic technologies to create a full working Star Trek style holodeck are being created bit by bit. It may be another ten years before we see a complete, seamless technology that will give it to us, but there’s no question that we’ll have it.

To find out more, visit Rice University’s page on the subject.


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