Tactical Haptics Puts Real Force Feedback in a Handheld VR Controller
In virtual reality games (as in most games), your hands are what you use to interact with your environment, either directly or mediated through some virtual object (like a gun or a sword). But the experience of doing this is almost completely a one-way street: Maybe the controller that you’re holding is fancy enough to vibrate a little bit, but that’s about the best that you can hope for in terms of the interface physically stimulating you. For a more immersive experience, you want to engage as many of your senses as possible, not just sight and sound.
Besides incorporating motion into VR, adding convincing haptic feedback is the next logical step. It’s a difficult step to take, though, because there’s no obvious way to exert force on a handheld controller so that it feels like it’s responding to the game while it’s in your hand. But Tactical Haptics thinks it has the problem licked. It has spent the past few years developing a clever controller that can buck and twist while you’re holding it.
Most haptic controllers that are capable of exerting forces on the user are complex, bulky pieces of hardware that are, by necessity, mounted in a fixed location. In order for something to exert a force on you, it has to have some kind of leverage, which usually means it’s sitting on your desk or something. The Novint Falcon controller is a good example; it can convincingly replicate a variety of forces and sensations, because it’s able to push against your hand.
This doesn’t really work for VR games where part of the fun is that you get to stand up and move around. You want your motion to be restricted as little as possible. As stated at its website, Tactical Haptics is solving this freedom-versus-leverage dilemma with “an ungrounded haptic motion controller that utilizes a new form of touch feedback that applies in-hand shear forces to create compelling physical feedback.”
The secret to Tactical Haptics’ controller is in the grip. When you hold the controller, your hand is actually wrapped around four individually-actuated smooth plates that can slide up and down the handle’s length. Since you’re gripping the plates with your hand, their sliding motions—propelled by small motors insided the controller—cause the device to move in a way that emulates the feeling of friction,…[Read more]