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Ultra-light Dextres gloves add a touch of reality to VR

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VR gloves are nothing new, but for a long time have been large and bulky devices tethered to numerous cables. That doesn’t make them the most convenient thing to use in any situation.

Now, a design collaboration between scientists at École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) and ETH Zurich has resulted in new haptic gloves that simulate ultra-realistic touch in virtual environments – and currently weigh only eight grams per finger.

The Dextres gloves will allow users to grasp and feel virtual objects with a high degree of realism and could be a game-changer for those using a VR headset to watch porn. Although currently powered by a thin electrical cable, the low voltage required means the prototype could eventually be battery-powered, making the Dextres gloves fully portable.

“We wanted to develop a lightweight device that – unlike existing virtual-reality gloves – doesn’t require a bulky exoskeleton, pumps or very thick cables,” said Herbert Shea, head of EPFL’s Soft Transducers Laboratory (LMTS).

The nylon gloves have elastic metal strips running over the fingers which are separated by an insulator. When the user’s fingers come into contact with a virtual object, the controller applies a voltage difference between the metal strips causing them to stick together via electrostatic attraction. This stops the gloves from moving any further and gives you the real sensation that you’re touching something. Once the voltage is removed, the metal strips glide smoothly and the user can once again move their fingers freely.

The gloves have been successfully tested on volunteers in Zurich. Shea adds: “The next step will be to scale up the device and apply it to other parts of the body using conductive fabric. Gamers are currently the biggest market, but […] the technology could also be applied in augmented reality.”

We can see these lightweight gloves eventually being used for other virtual reality purposes, too – and you don’t get any points for guessing which sector we’re talking about.

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