Meta’s sci-fi glove lets you feel VR objects using air pockets
What we really wanted from VR might come to reality soon.
Meta (formerly Facebook) is known for its high-profile moves into virtual and augmented reality. For seven years, though, it’s been quietly working on one of its most ambitious projects yet: a haptic glove that reproduces sensations like grasping an object or running your hand along a surface. While Meta’s not letting the glove out of its Reality Labs research division, the company is showing it off for the first time today, and it sees the device — alongside other wearable tech — as the future of VR and AR interaction.
At a simplified level, Meta’s haptics prototype is a glove lined with around 15 ridged and inflatable plastic pads known as actuators. The pads are arranged to fit along the wearer’s palm, the underside of their fingers, and their fingertips. The glove also acts as a VR controller. The back features small white markers that let cameras track how the fingers move through space, and it’s got internal sensors that capture how the wearer’s fingers are bending.
When you put on the glove and enter a VR or AR experience, a sophisticated control system adjusts the level of inflation, creating pressure on different parts of your hand. If you’re touching a virtual object with your fingertips, you’ll feel the sensation of that object pressing into your skin. If you’re gripping a virtual item, the long finger actuators will stiffen, creating a sensation of resistance. These sensations work alongside visual and audio cues to produce the illusion of physical touch.
The tech draws on the relatively new field of soft robotics, replacing bulky motors with tiny air valves. Meta has been working on it nearly since it acquired the Oculus VR startup in 2014. It developed its first prototype — one finger with a single actuator — in 2015.