At E3 2016 I got to see the latest prototype version of Gloveone, a haptic motion input glove designed for virtual reality. The prototype now uses its own tracking system which in early testing seems impressively robust.
Gloveone, created by NeuroDigital Technologies, successfully funded just over $150,000 on Kickstarter in July 2015 for the first version of their haptic VR glove which uses tiny vibrators placed at the ends of your fingers to create the sensation of touching virtual objects. But that first version of the glove required a third-party tracking system like Leap Motion in order to translate the movement of the user’s hands into virtual reality.
The latest Gloveone prototype integrates its own tracking system which utilizes IMUs arranged along each finger and along the user’s arm and torso. The result is tracking for not just your fingers, but for your entire arm and torso as well.
Now I know what you’re thinking and it’s the first thing I thought as well: a purely IMU-based tracking system is going to drift; after just a few minutes my hand will be in some crazy position that doesn’t match its real-world orientation at all. So when NeuroDigital Founder Luis Castillo claimed there was “zero drift,” I was extremely skeptical.
Much to my surprise, the tracking held up. Even after I went out of my way to torture test it by spinning my hand around on my wrist continuously for several seconds, the virtual version of my hand remained convincingly close to the orientation of my real hand.
Castillo wouldn’t say what they’re doing differently mitigate drift, but given that IMU’s are only capable of relative tracking, there must be some drift correction happening. At an individual IMU level, a magnetometer is generally used for drift correction, but even then it’s tough to eliminate entirely. The secret, I suspect, is treating all of the IMUs as a self-corrective system, and the sensor on my chest is probably an essential reference point for the rest of the array, not to mention the VR headset on my head which is itself tied to an absolute positioning system and may be involved in the positional determination.
The tracking enabled my hand to be positionally tracked, such that I could reach forward to grab objects, and also track the orientation of my wrist, as well as each of my fingers. My arm and chest were also tracked and accurately reflected the movements of my torso while in VR. Gloveone uses a pinch motion allowing you to grab objects in the virtual world, but instead of the usual optical or gestural detection, the glove smartly uses capacitive sensors to detect the pinch, which is much more robust than other methods.
The latency of the input was also quite impressive. Although in my short hands-on I had no means of measuring latency directly, it felt in the same class as many of the best VR input devices out there, like Leap Motion, Oculus Touch, and HTC Vive controllers.
The haptics on the Gloveone prototype were functional but didn’t quite sell me on the sensation. The glove uses small vibrating motors at the tips of each finger to give the feeling that you are touching objects in the virtual world. The problem is, when I grab a bottle of water in the real world, I feel pressure on my fingers, not vibration—there’s a mismatch between what my brain is expecting to feel and what it actually feels. Granted, there were a few effects—like the jet exhaust from a hovering drone—where the vibrations did create a plausible sensation. Castillo told me that the particular demo that I experience was made to show the tracking and not so much the haptics. He said that other demos the company has built show a wider range of haptic effects, but I unfortunately didn’t have time to dig into them.