‘Haptic Shape Illusion’ Allows VR Controllers to Simulate Feel of Physically Larger Objects


In a study lead by Eisuke Fujinawa at the University of Tokyo, a team of students created a procedure for designing compact VR controllers that feel physically larger. Exploring the concept of ‘haptic shape illusion’, the controllers have data-driven, precise mass properties, aiming to simulate the same feeling in the hand as the larger objects on which they are based.

Simulating the feel of real objects is a fundamental haptics challenge in VR. Today’s general-purpose motion controllers for VR work best when the virtual object is reasonably similar in size and weight; very large or heavy virtual objects immediately seem unrealistic when picked up.

One solution is to use specific controllers for a given application—for instance attaching a tracker to a real baseball bat; in a hands-on with one such solution, Road to VR’s Ben Lang described the significance of gripping a real bat and how that influenced his swing compared to a lightweight controller. But swinging a controller the size and weight of a baseball bat around your living room probably isn’t the best idea.

As shown in the video below, researchers from the University of Tokyo attempted to create much smaller objects that retain the same perceived size. The team designed an automated system which takes the original weight and size of an object and then creates a more compact but similar feeling output through precise mass arrangement.

The paper refers to several ecological psychology studies into how humans perceive the size of an object through touch alone, supporting the idea that perceived length and width is strongly related to the moment of inertia about the hand position.

The team concentrated its efforts on this haptic shape perception, collecting data from participants wielding different sample controllers in VR to determine their perceived sizes, having never seen the controllers in reality. This data allowed the creation of a ‘shape perception model’, which optimises the design of a large object within smaller size constraints, outputting CAD data for fabrication.

The object is deformed to fit the size constraints, holes are cut out, and weights are placed at specific points to maintain the original moment of inertia.

Image courtesy Fujinawa et al.

The team had VR developers in mind, as this approach could offer a potential benefit in demonstrating a product with a more realistic controller. The CAD data output means that smaller, safer prototype controllers that give the impression of wielding larger objects can be created quickly with a laser cutter or 3D printer.

Exploring Methods for Conveying Object Weight in Virtual Reality

Further information and the full paper is available on Fujinawa’s website. The research is being presented at this week’s VRST 2017, the 23rd ACM Symposium on Virtual Reality Software and Technology held in Gothenburg, Sweden.

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  • Firestorm185

    This looks cool in a no touching standpoint, but it kinda falls apart when you want to reach out and run a finger along the edge of a blade that isn’t there. Personally I’ll be fine using Touch-like controllers until full-dive becomes a reality.

  • Lucidfeuer

    This both is cool in terms of research and a little sad that it means a weight-simulated haptic feedback is at least 15 years away.

    • GigaSora

      How so on the 15 years away?

      • Lucidfeuer

        Wether stemming from this initial research or other similar ones, the fact that in any case we are at that stage of development means you can project it’ll take at least a realistic 15 years to get a practical consumer controller/bracelet that can simulate different weight profiles.

        And that’s very optimistic since here they’re using lots of different prototypes which correspond to single weight profiles, which of course nobody will waste time and money collecting for the different objects or shapes/mass that exist.

        • Gus Bisbal

          Oh wow…. so you feel that this is 15 years away…. :-) Oh dude. That was gold. That has made laugh and laugh… Thank you. Keep posting like this. It does my soul good.

          • E.T. Deubner

            If this is the newest tech in 15 years, I quit.

  • Joel Cullum

    Shame they are not proposing a controller that changes the weight positions on the fly to become any object.

    • André Zenner

      Take a look ;-)
      We introduced the prototype of a weight-shifting VR controller this year @ IEEE VR 2017

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  • E.T. Deubner

    Are we sure this isn’t a parody video? I laughed my butt off when the guy hit the drum set with his virtual guitar. Cutting edge comedy maybe? Oh Japan..

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      • Adrian Jakubiak

        seems legit

  • JustinFlores

    Although it may seem like a simple kids’ toy, a substantial amount of exploration and experimentation with the psychology of a genuine augmented ‘haptic experience’ goes into developing our company’s products, like the Merge Cube (https://mergevr.com/cube), which is allowing the next generation to start interacting with these concepts en masse today. Glad to see work on these ideas at the institutional level, but I’d like to see more products taking the technology into the market to let the strongest use cases percolate out.