These Gloves Let You Play Piano in VR—and Feel It

Combining three discrete technologies, researchers at UC San Diego have created a glove that simulates real-life force in virtual worlds.

Researchers at University of California-San Diego have designed a new lightweight glove that can replicate the feeling of touch, using it to play piano. (Just don’t expect the technology to transform you into an overnight Liberace).

Designed with soft robotics, the gloves allow you to feel like you are actually pushing a real object. Latex chambers covered with braided fibers cover the glove and respond to movement by opening or closing, replicating the pushback you would feel from pressing a button or the keys to a piano.

Jurgen Schulze, a professor in computer science who teaches courses on VR, and lead researcher on the project, explained that current VR gloves that use vibration don’t achieve the level of realism he deems necessary for true immersion in virtual worlds.

“You can’t touch anything, or feel resistance when you’re pushing a button,” Schulze said in a statement. “By contrast, we are trying to make the user feel like they’re in the actual environment from a tactile point of view.”

The exoskeleton on this prototype glove has three crucial elements that allow it function: a Leap Motion that locate the hands in space, a custom fluidic control board that opens or closes the tunnels lining the hands to simulate tactiles, and the actual robotics lining the hands.

Currently the engineers are working to make the gloves cheaper and less bulky for a consumer audience.

“Our final goal is to create a device that provides a richer experience in VR,” said Michael Tolley, a mechanical engineering professor and lead researcher, in a statement. “But you could imagine it being used for surgery and video games, among other applications.”

Below you can see how the gloves were used to play piano.

Images courtesy of UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering.

About the Scout

Allison Hollender

Allison is a Bay Area journalist reporting for VRScout. Follow her attempts at jokes @alleyrenee16.

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