Virtual reality motion controllers work pretty well at syncing up the movements of digital digits with your real ones, but they aren't all that good at recreating the sense of touch. Scientists from EPFL and ETH Zurich have developed new haptic gloves that could help users get in touch with virtual objects.
Haptic feedback systems aren't particularly new. We've seen them crammed into gloves, boots, jackets, and even full-body suits, and made real through vibrating motors, inflatable bladders, electrical fields or just mechanical components that push back.
The new gloves, dubbed DextrES, work using a pretty novel technique. Embedded into the fingers of nylon gloves are strips of an elastic metal with a thin insulator between them. When a virtual object needs to be simulated, a voltage difference is applied to the metal strips, which causes them to stick together. That in turn creates a braking force – the wearer physically can't close their fingers past a certain point, giving them the firm impression that there's something in their hand. When the object is dropped, the voltage is lifted and they can move their fingers freely again.