Trying out haptic wearables at the Future Lab exhibit at the 2022 Goodwood Festival of Speed in the UK gave me the opportunity to immerse myself in VR games in a tactile and exciting way – my whole body could touch and feel digital objects as if they were real. That was wild and then, with some haptic wearables for my hands, things got weird.
While trying out the Teslasuit – a full-body haptic suit that was the most immersive VR device I’ve ever used – I also got to wear the Teslasuit Gloves. Much like the full-body Teslasuit, the Teslasuit Gloves are designed to work with the best VR headsets to make experiences more real using haptics.
To do this, it borrows elements from the Teslasuit design. The glove has electrodes placed against each of your fingertips that can output a current from 1mA to 80mA in different patterns to stimulate your muscles and mimic real sensations.
The glove kicks things up a level though with a new trick: force feedback, which works in tandem with its motion tracking capabilities. Using an exoskeleton, the glove can impose some mechanical resistance and restrict your finger’s movements. When you go to pick up a virtual object – say an apple – your fingers won’t be able to move into the space the fruit would occupy if you were holding it for real. You are forced to grip around it.
What’s more, the glove can use its exoskeleton to manipulate your hands’ movement, giving control of your motion to someone else.
To get a sense of how force feedback can work, I had to give up one glove to another user while a feature called mirroring was turned on. One of us would be given control at a time and whoever was in charge could move their hand around freely; the other person would feel the exoskeleton gently force their hand to copy whatever the controller was doing with theirs.
Using this tool, I could be made to do a thumbs up, grip an imaginary water bottle, and shake hands with someone who wasn’t there. This kind of tech, while a little daunting at first, could pave the way for immersive video game cutscenes or VR films that let you experience what the protagonist is going through.
For now, though, the Teslasuit Gloves are being designed with teaching in mind. CEO Sergei Nossoff explained that one application could be training new surgeons, letting them follow along as an expert performs a tricky operation so that the rookies can get a feel for what they should do if faced with similar situations.
Hearing this example it was easy to imagine the gloves being used in reverse, where an inexperienced surgeon could be controlled by an expert many miles away. Though we’re still a fair bit away from that.
The Teslasuit Gloves felt more like a work-in-progress than the Teslasuit proper, but they were no less exciting. The potential to bring VR objects to life was clear to see – and if I can ever use the gloves again I’d love to play Half-Life Alyx or Resident Evil 4 VR with them on. Or perhaps something where the objects I pick up aren’t so creepy – maybe Vacation Simulator.