As VR display resolutions become more packed with pixels and new controller types such as Valve’s Knuckles dangle tantalizingly in front of us, one thing that often goes overlooked is haptic feedback. There are plenty of companies out there working to help define the first real haptic standard outside of tiny vibration motors seen already in VR motion controllers, and now it appears Microsoft can be counted among them with their newly revealed CLAW controller prototype.

CLAW, Microsoft describes in a recent blog post, is a handheld VR controller designed to “augment the typical controller functionality with force feedback and actuated movement to the index finger.”

With it, Microsoft researchers say it mimics the feeling of grasping virtual objects, touching virtual surfaces, and depressing triggers. Microsoft researchers say it also changes its corresponding haptic configuration by sensing the differences in the user’s grasp.

The prototype contains a servo motor coupled with a force sensor, which imparts force on the index finger during grasping and touching. Using HTC’s Vive Tracker for positional tracking, the prototype also incorporates a vibrating actuator at the index fingertip to mimic virtual textures. While somewhat less exciting in its implications, CLAW can also reconfigure to a trigger mode that delivers haptic force feedback to simulate pulling a trigger on a gun.

Microsoft researchers carried out two user studies, detailed in the full research paper. The first study, researchers say, “obtained qualitative user feedback on the naturalness, effectiveness, and comfort when using the device,” while the second study details the ease of the transition between grasping and touching when in use.

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Microsoft’s CLAW may not be the foundation of a new haptic controller standard, but to its credit, it does reduce the complexity of 5-finger setups considerably by focusing solely on the index finger. While it’s clear that force feedback and a buzzing actuator on a single finger isn’t what we’d call anywhere near ‘complete’, it’s certainly a step in a different direction.

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Well before the first modern XR products hit the market, Scott recognized the potential of the technology and set out to understand and document its growth. He has been professionally reporting on the space for nearly a decade as Editor at Road to VR, authoring more than 3,500 articles on the topic. Scott brings that seasoned insight to his reporting from major industry events across the globe.
  • Lucidfeuer

    This is interesting, a miniaturised version not unlike the Oculus touch but with an haptic mechanical grip of sorts could be a great way to combine controller and glove-like interaction into one. The Vive Knuckles could head that way too (but I doubt that).

  • Mateusz Pawluczuk

    A unique controler of this kind would help Windows MR headsets find their footing but I’m afraid that with the current supercharged rate of interation this simply won’t be consumer ready in time (for gen2).

  • Interesting design and I hope they make the files to create one available. What catches my attention though is using the Vive Tracker upside down. If tracking is as reliable in this position, it will really make the adapter I am making for my #ActiveShooterSimulator Walther PP99 Airsoft replica much simpler since the advantage of using this replica is its realistic weight and blow back action, which in itself complicates the design since the upper receiver actually moves back requiring complete clearance of this area in any design. If I can invert it and mount it like a flashlight/laser attachment, this will really make the whole design sturdier. Here is the current prototype design.

  • George Vieira IV

    Hmmm, I feel like haptics like this are going to be almost as hard a sell as the HMDs themselves were. Unless The controller is great, and the software that utilizes it is also great I can’t imagine anyone but the most hardcore getting into it.

    Side note, I wonder how well this would work for a sculpting program or something of the sort.

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    • The idea of one finger does sound dumb, but the idea of feeling/picking-up things in Skyrim VR or Fallout VR sounds VERY appealing. If this was a product, I’d be throwing money at them.

      • RockstarRepublic

        After owning a novint falcon and playing half-life with it, I can say without a doubt that anyone who tries real haptic feedback devices like this will be sold on it. Its a shame the novint falcon lost support, gaming without it has kind of ruined traditional games in a way.

        Real haptic feedback devices are simply amazing, its usually better than you would imagine assuming the content is set up right.

        • I wish I could have had your experience. I owned the Falcon, but never could find any good software for it. It’s unfortunate I missed out on the Half Life support. If you have a YouTube video or something related to it and it’s Half Life support, I’d love to see it.

          • RockstarRepublic

            As long as you can get the drivers installed for the Falcon, it should work with half life 2 natively. Valve added support and have not removed it. I believe team fortress 2 also has it enabled.

  • I still think a tracked glove with an outer hydraulic exoskeleton for joint resistance and action is the closest we can get for simulating touch and feel. All these other concepts are great though.

    In fact you may not even need a full enveloping glove but something like a series of rings (like a knuckle duster) that you slide your fingers into then Hydraulics attached to those individual rings resist, push or pull based on geometry in the world while also following your fingers joint rotations. Power could be a challenge I guess.

    • Andrew Campbell

      I played around with creating something like what you’re describing:

      I used pneumatics as the power supply (air pump for pressure and battery to run it) can be mounted on separately from the glove (say arm-mounted). Also with double acting pistons you can push or pull while reusing much of the same mechanism, saving space. The problem is that most pneumatic valves aren’t small or power efficient, and you need a lot of valves to make a full haptic glove.

  • Mitk Dark

    I’d rather have the Valve knuckles. Easy to implement, proof of concept already in the VR space, astronomically better ergonomics, proven haptics, lightweight, and much more.