Back in November of last year, a company called HaptX (formerly AxonVR) announced its first product, a set of VR gloves with haptic feedback. Based on "years of research and development in haptic technology," the gloves promised to replicate how objects feel in the real world, when encountering them in a virtual space. If done right, it could add another level of immersion to VR. A new video demonstration suggests the company is on the right track.
The gloves use a "patented microfluidic technology" designed to physically displace the skin in the same way a real world object would when touched. HaptX claims its gloves are capable of closely replicating the texture, shape, and movement of objects, so in theory holding and throwing a baseball would feel different from, say, squishing a grape (our example, not HaptX's).
Early in the video, Smarter Every Day's host Destin Sandlin sticks his hand underneath a rain cloud with his palm facing upward. What he's using is a prototype, not a finished product, but apparently it works pretty well already.
"I'm not a VR believer, but you can actually feel each individual raindrop in your hand," Sandlin says. "It's not wet or anything like that, but it's perfectly timed, perfectly positioned, and your brain accepts it."
Sandlin said the haptic feedback from the rain hitting his hand was the "exact moment I realized that they've done something amazing."
At another point in the video, Sandlin mentions the force feedback pulling back on his finger as he grips and pulls on a windmill. This is actually key to the overall experience, as it helps discern between heavier and harder objects.
There are 120 sensors in the palm—enough to make some people freak out when simulating a spider crawling across their hand. HaptX says it learned to ask people how they feel about spiders before tossing them into the demo.
It's all rather neat, though it looks unwieldy in its current form. The glove is pretty big, and it's connected to a contraption with a thick bundle of cables. This is something HaptX will likely need to tweak if it hopes for any kind of mass appeal. That's assuming it's affordable.
Regardless of the current state, it seems HaptX is headed in a direction that VR needs to go.