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Microsoft gets the feeling for VR – research points to virtual reality you can touch and feel

Soon you could touch and feel your way through the virtual reality world.

By Ellie Burns

You can see it, but you cannot touch it – a virtual reality fact when speaking to most people about the technology. However, if you are Microsoft, touch and feeling in VR is not beyond the realm of possibility.

Microsoft’s research arm has published a whitepaper on two prototype systems that provide ‘haptic feedback’, or touch feedback, in virtual reality. Due to be presented this week at the Association for Computer Machinery’s User Interface Software and Technology Symposium, the Microsoft researchers have produced two controller systems that ‘push back’ when a person interacts with an object in virtual reality. The researchers, presenting their research in the abstract, explained:

“We present an investigation of mechanically-actuated hand-held controllers that render the shape of virtual objects through physical shape displacement, enabling users to feel 3D surfaces, textures, and forces that match the visual rendering. We demonstrate two such controllers, NormalTouch and TextureTouch, which are tracked in 3D and produce spatially-registered haptic feedback to a user’s finger.

“NormalTouch haptically renders object surfaces and provides force feedback using a tiltable and extrudable platform. TextureTouch renders the shape of virtual objects including detailed surface structure through a 4×4 matrix of actuated pins.”

Currently, haptic feedback is restricted to controllers buzzing or restricting motion in the users’ hand. As Virtual reality, or VR, is evolving, so are the controllers used to explore and control VR experiences. Many different designs currently exist, but none include the technology or touch capabilities of the technology detailed in the Microsoft whitepaper.

As the two controllers are in the prototype stage, it remains to be seen if these controllers will enter production or will actually be used by the masses in the future. It does, however, give an idea of what VR avenues major tech companies like Microsoft are currently pursuing.

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