While the visual quality of virtual reality has come on in leaps and bounds over the last 5 years, the tactile side has made hardly any progress.
That leaves the majority of our senses unengaged in the virtual environment, but Microsoft Research has been looking at ways to engage our touch and kinaesthetic senses for some time.
Their latest effort is the X-Rings controller, a novel hand-mounted 360-degree shape display for Virtual Reality that renders objects in 3D and responds to user-applied touch and grasping force.
Designed as a modular stack of motor-driven expandable rings (5.7-7.7 cm diameter), X-Rings renders radially symmetric surfaces graspable by the user’s whole hand. The device is strapped to the palm, allowing the fingers to freely make and break contact with the device. Capacitive sensors and motor current sensing provide estimates of finger touch states and gripping force. With a response time of only 10 ms, the device is able to accurately replicate the shape of multiple virtual objects in an environment as a user moves around
Microsoft Research presented the invention at the ACM Symposium on User Interface Software and Technology. See their presentation video below: