At GDC 2013, a company called Tactical Haptics showed off a tactile-feedback system, called Reactive Grip, for motion-controlled input devices. The prototype I got to use consisted of a hacked up Razer Hydra built into a 3D printed housing with four sliders that move up and down in your hand as you grip the unit. For certain situations, like swinging a sword or flail, the system creates an impressively convincing sensation that could bring us one step closer to immersive virtual reality.

A Sensational Sensation

palmer luckey tactical haptics reactive grip
Palmer Luckey, creator of the Oculus Rift, trying the Reactive Grip prototype at GDC 2013 – Photo credit: Make

With the Reactive Grip system, translational motions and forces can be portrayed by moving the sliders in unison with the direction of force, while moving the sliders in opposite directions can create the feeling of the device wrenching in the user’s grasp.

When I asked Palmer Luckey what he thought about the system, he told me it was “totally badass.”

The sword and flail demos (see the video above) stole the spotlight for me. While the slicing motion felt good, the stabbing motion felt immediately natural. As you stab into the material, the handle of the unit seems to push back against you, as though there really is some resistance at the end of the virtual sword. Sliding the sword under the arm of the dummy and letting it slowly slide off the blade felt very convincing.

The flail demo was even better. Imagine swinging a flail over your head; think about the way that the grip of the flail would pull in a circular motion around your hand as the mass above you swings about. That sensation was very convincing with Reactive Grip. It almost felt like there really was a weight flying around above my head attached to the handle.

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An Extra Layer of Immersion

Reactive Grip could provide another layer of immersion when combined with an experience like the Oculus Rift Razer Hydra ‘Tuscany’ demo. With a head mounted display, reaching out to grab objects with your own virtual hands is already highly immersive — adding realistic tactile sensation would take things to the next step.

Immediately I imagined that this would be incredible for a game like Chivalry: Medieval Warfare (PC, 2012), wherein you engage in combat using any number of medieval weapons — including a flail. Such a setup would take advantage of both motion sensing for attacks and tactile feedback when striking opponents or parrying weapons.

Founding and Future of Tactical Haptics and Reactive Grip

Tactical Haptics and the Reactive Grip technology comes out of the University of Utah’s Haptics & Embedded Mechatronics Laboratory. The company is a recent startup, founded Dr. William Provancher, which hopes to commercialize the Reactive Grip technology.


reactive grip skin stretch tactile feedbackIn addition to the handle-based unit that I tried at GDC, the technology can be applied to a number of other applications, such as finger-based systems that can be built into gamepads and small tool-like implements which could provide tactile feedback for virtual surgery training.

Provancher, who holds a Ph. D. in Mechanical Engineering and is currently an Associate Professor at the University of Utah, told me that Reactive Grip is not restricted to the Razer Hydra. It could be implemented with a Wiimote, PlayStation Move, or even a new motion tracking peripheral altogether.

The company intends to launch a Kickstarter this summer to fund developer kits, expected to cost $150, though the final implementation of the technology might happen on a license basis rather than a product directly from Tactical Haptics.

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Excitingly, Provancher thinks that a system incorporating Reactive Grip would only add about $50 to the price tag of an in-production motion tracking device, which I think many looking for an immersive virtual reality experience would be willing to pay for.

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Ben is the world's most senior professional analyst solely dedicated to the XR industry, having founded Road to VR in 2011—a year before the Oculus Kickstarter sparked a resurgence that led to the modern XR landscape. He has authored more than 3,000 articles chronicling the evolution of the XR industry over more than a decade. With that unique perspective, Ben has been consistently recognized as one of the most influential voices in XR, giving keynotes and joining panel and podcast discussions at key industry events. He is a self-described "journalist and analyst, not evangelist."
  • WormSlayer

    Robotic Catheter Insertion…? *cringe* O.o

  • Andreas Aronsson

    What? Even more amazing news? You know this seems so obvious, I can completely imagine the sensation, it’s brilliant! Oculus needs to license the &%#€ out of this and eventually sell their own Oculus Comlete VR Pack – Antisocial Evolved.

    Imagine an exploration game, like The Gallery, where your hands are tracked optically (like Doc-Ok simulated recently) and then you have the Reactive Grip at your hip to represent whatever you want, ready for action! :D Whoaaaa!

    • Tactical Haptics

      Yep, we’ll be getting our Oculus Rift soon, and have already started playing a little with having Reactive Grip touch feedback in both hands…

  • Flavio

    Wow! That’s amazing

  • Tactical Haptics

    Great story Ben! Thanks for spending some time with us at GDC.

    To be clear on our expected pricing, I’m guessing it might add $50 to the cost of a current motion controller once in production, but for the more limited production run we’d need to do for kickstarter I’m guessing the developer kits will run about $150.

    Also, you can see great GDC user reactions on our
    Facebook page:
    or directly at:

  • david

    @Tactical Haptics
    How did you think of this design ?
    Simple and elegant !

    • Tactical Haptics

      Hi David,
      The short answer would be that it just kind of evolved out of our earlier research, but here’s a bit more of an explanation…

      Our current device design just kind of evolved out of our earlier research

      … along with the observation that we could also create rotational/torque-like cues with the use of multiple sliding skin contactors:

      … and the observations that we made when people tried our earlier gaming implementation in an xbox- or play station-style controller.

      We saw that people were much more “into” the experiential effects that we implemented in demos than informational things like “where’s the bad guy” on your HUD, so we started putting a heavier emphasis on experiential effects… which led to the current hardware implementation.