Directional Haptics with Simple Hardware

Photo by Road to VR

In 2018 I got to demo a very unique haptic approach from a Japan-based haptics company called MIRAISENS:

The prototype 3DHaptics controllers from Miraisens do something that I didn’t previously think was possible. Being supported by nothing but your own hands, the unassuming prototype device uses vibrations to create sensations of an external force pushing or pulling your hand in specific directions. It isn’t a strong force, but it’s unmistakably directional. I closed my eyes and asked the demonstrator to choose random directions so I could guess the answer, and found that I was able to sense the intended direction with 100% accuracy.

The demonstrator ran me through a series of demos as I held the 3DHaptics prototype. After the simple directional demo, which allowed the demonstrator to point the device’s feedback at an arbitrary direction and amplitude, there was a series of examples using virtual springs which either asked me to compress or stretch a series of springs with one or two hands. The 3DHaptics feedback, combined with the visual feedback, was surprisingly compelling; it felt like the springs were pushing or pulling against my hands as I manipulated them. It felt almost like my hands wanted to move themselves in the implied direction.

What I found most interesting about this demo is that the hardware used to achieve it was dead simple. The company told me that each controller contained just two linear resonant actuators (LRA)… the same kind of haptic engine which is in many VR controllers today. Miraisens said the secret sauce that allows them to create an accurate sense of directional forces comes from the unique frequencies and waveforms with which they’re driving the LRAs. The company claims that the underlying tech is covered by several of their patents.

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Holding a Virtual Object

Photo by Road to VR

There’s a lot of cool haptic tech out there, but to date the thing that’s given me the single most convincing sense of actually touching virtual objects has to be the HaptX VR glove.

As I explained at the time, the gloves provide two key forms of feedback:

First is pressure feedback, which aims to create subtle sensations of objects touching the user. For this, the HaptX glove uses arrays of micro-pneumatic actuators—effectively grids of little inflatable bladders which can be inflated and deflated quickly and precisely. By using the arrays to press against the palm and fingertips as needed, the glove can create a sense that an object is touching the user.

The second is force feedback, which is about pushing back or inhibiting the user’s movement in the same way that a corresponding physical object would. To this end, the HaptX glove has a mechanical brake on each finger which can prevent the finger from bending any further. For instance, when gripping a baseball, your fingers come in contact with the sides of the ball and are physically stopped by it. The HaptX glove simulates this by stopping your fingers from moving past where the point that they would stop if you were really holding a physical object.

With the two of these working in conjunction, I was blown away at how realistic it felt to rotate a completely virtual cube in my fingers:

HaptX just announced its latest version of its VR gloves, and though they are smaller than they once were, they’re still undoubtedly bulky and will likely be for some time to come. That means this kind of tech will really only fit in non-consumer scenarios where companies are willing to shell out for the added immersion.

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While there’s a lot of cool haptic tech demos out there—many of which can greatly enhance immersion—the unfortunate fact is that there’s various reasons why we don’t already see them widely integrated into existing VR devices. Often times it’s a matter of reliability, flexibility, power consumption, manufacturing complexity, miniaturization, or just outright cost.

With that said, haptics on VR controllers are at least making some advances. PlayStation is leading the pack in that department with PSVR 2’s new controllers which newly include force-feedback triggers. And Meta is getting more serious about controller haptics with its new Touch Pro controllers which introduce stronger and more precise rumble than prior versions.

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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."
  • Guest

    It is very dangerous to put sudden heat on your face. There is no company nor software that I would trust to have that capability.

  • Till Eulenspiegel

    “A Joystick that Pushes Back”

    PS5 Dualsense’s Adaptive Triggers tech can easily be applied to the sticks.

    Nintendo Power Glove is so ahead of it’s time – while it does nothing, it sparks the imagination of kids who grew up to become engineers and made it actually useful.

  • Till Eulenspiegel

    “A Joystick that Pushes Back”

    PS5 Dualsense’s Adaptive Triggers tech can easily be applied to the sticks.

    Nintendo Power Glove is so ahead of it’s time – while it does nothing, it sparks the imagination of kids who grew up to become engineers and actually made it useful.

    • Ben Lang

      PS5 Dualsense’s Adaptive Triggers tech can easily be applied to the sticks

      Looking a bit into how they actually work, I don’t think it would be trivial to apply the same principle to the stick, let alone achieving 6DOF movement of the stick surface.

  • Haptics is very fascinating, but there is still a long road to go!

  • XRC

    Immersion inc. patent technology widely licensed including all big players and Sony using for trigger.

    Lra and piezoelectric haptics thankfully starting to replace ERM in mass market controllers

    Another approach? Stimulating metacarpals with low torque (1-3nm) haptic motor provide a full hand sensation

  • wheeler

    Unfortunately I haven’t heard much about Miraisens 3Dhaptics since they were acquired by Murata in 2019. As far as I know, the limitations with it are that the force sensations are constrained to 2 dimensions, the power consumption is high, and the range of force sensations is somewhat limited. In 2020 they posted a 3 part article on it (titled “Miraisens transforms gaming: exciting haptics technology”), with some details on how to improve on the technology with Wide Range Linear Actuators (WLAs instead of LRAs) that they were hoping to be able to develop with Murata’s resources. Haven’t heard anything since.

    From what I can tell, before even worrying about making objects conform to your fingers, most of the major motion controller interaction problems in VR gaming stem from the inability to simulate this kind of “3D” force sensation for the entire hand. You have no sense of weight, weight distribution, inertia, or collision/intersection, and as a result you interact with the virtual world as if you were a ghost rather than a participant. Granted, this technology can’t “stop the hand” (only something impractical like an exoskeleton could), but the directional feedback of this technology combined with some kind of overlaid feedback indicating the degree of intersection may be enough of a sensory substitute (you could “follow” the directional force sensation to resolve the intersection).

  • wheeler

    I wish we had more info on Miraisens 3Dhaptics. They were acquired by Murata and wanted to use their resources to develop WLAs (wide-range linear actuators). On the other hand, I’m not so confident that these exoskeletons for the fingers will address most of the interaction issues that stem from not having feedback that conveys 3D forces acting on the hand as a whole.

  • Fabio at Weart

    Weart’s TouchDIVER puts together the same simple approach used by Go Touch VR and adds thermal feedback and texture rendering in a very compact solution. Have you heard of or tested it?

    • Ben Lang

      Haven’t had a chance to yet!

  • SuperRes7

    Those mangas have gorgeous art.