Microsoft floats feelers for fake worlds

Haptic feedback controllers promise to put people in touch with virtual worlds

By Thomas Claburn in San Francisco

Posted in Emergent Tech, 8th March 2018 21:28 GMT

At least two crucial ingredients are missing from virtual and augmented reality: revenue and a sense of touch.

The industry is confident that the revenue is coming as hardware costs fall, awareness rises, and expectations become more realistic. Consultancy Greenlight Insights reckons global VR revenue will reach $75 billion by 2021. But at present VR hardware makers remain shy about disclosing sales.

Microsoft, which acknowledged last year that it had sold only "thousands" of HoloLens kits, has been busily trying to address the fact that virtual interaction is fundamentally unsatisfying because you can't touch anything, at least until you collide with a non-virtual object.

On Thursday, Redmond's boffins disclosed their latest bit of kit to improve the experience of goggles and graphics – the CLAW, a multifunction haptic controller prototype designed to simulate tactile feedback when attempting to touch the graphics rendered through face-hugging hardware.

CLAW is not an acronym – Microsoft uses capital letters for no good reason. It's designed to give explorers of virtual worlds something to hold onto. The device provides the ability to grasp virtual objects, to touch virtual surfaces, and to trigger events.

While other VR controllers can be used for similar sorts of interaction, the Microsoft CLAW offers a wider range of interactive possibilities, including the ability to simulate both soft and hard surfaces.

"A force sensor embedded in the index finger rest and changing the motor’s response profiles enables the sensing of objects of different materials, from full rigid wooden block to an elastic sponge," Microsoft explains in its post on the subject.

Redmond's researchers have developed another touch-oriented tool, dubbed the Haptic Revolver. It stimulates various surfaces using a spinning wheel.

Microsoft describes how the device might be used for a virtual poker game, to provide sensation by rotating the wheel when a user touches a rendered card, chip, or table.

"As the user slides along one of these surfaces, the wheel moves underneath the finger to render shear forces and motion," the company explains.

The code and cloud biz has also developed a scheme called Haptic Links to facilitate the simulation of two-handed objects using separate but linked controllers. The system allows a pair of VR controllers to serve, for example, as a virtual bow and arrow simulation by providing varied force feedback for the bow and bow string.

Finally, Microsoft researchers have come up with a Canetroller, to allow people with limited or no vision to navigate virtual spaces through tactile feedback.

The company researchers say their Canetroller allows for new types of cane-based mobility training in which people can practice navigation prior to trying those skills out in a real-world setting. They also see it as a way to make VR gaming and entertainment more accessible to those who cannot experience a simulation visually. ®

Sign up to our NewsletterGet IT in your inbox daily


More from The Register

Microsoft Store adds ‘private audience’ apps to its Store

A velvet rope for digital tat, to help with betas, promos and maybe Windows 10 S

Even Microsoft's lost interest in Windows Phone: Skype and Yammer apps killed

Use iOS or Android, says Redmond, as telephony APIs sprout in Windows

Hawaii Live-Go! Microsoft launches Honolulu admin tool for cloud and on-prem

One tool to rule them all

Microsoft starts buying speculative execution exploits

Adds bug bounty class for Meltdown and Spectre attacks on Windows and Azure

BlackBerry calls out between two worlds: Microsoft, Dynamics sandboxes walk with me

When container realms collide

Microsoft's Teams lights solitary candle, hipsters don't notice

Slacklike turns one

Windows 10 Springwatch: See the majestic Microsoft in its natural habitat, fixing stuff the last patch broke

Bumper update flings slew of 'Quality Improvements' at OS

Microsoft ports its Quantum Development Kit to Linux and macOS

Now that it's not Windows-only, you can simulate a theoretical computer on a real computer

Microsoft Lean's in: Slimmed-down Windows 10 OS option spotted

Pics A return to mobile, bloat-busting build or something else?

Microsoft: Yes, we agree that Irish email dispute is moot... now what's this new warrant about?

Redmond backs down without actually backing down