Microsoft’s ‘Haptic Links’ Bring A New Level Of Realism To VR

Could one of these intuitive prototypes deliver the immersive haptic feedback users have been clamoring for?   

One of the most important traits of a captivating VR experience is freedom of movement. Allowing users to interact with the virtual world using their own two hands is a key component in truly selling an experience and immersing participants.

That being said, sometimes a little restriction can actually be a good thing. Having the ability to freely move your hands separately in any direction is great, but things get a little wonky when you start interacting with objects using two hands at once.   

That’s why Microsoft is currently in development on a solution that would actually link two standard VR motion controllers together to simulate realistic tension and pressure.

By using what Microsoft refers to as ‘Haptic Links,’ VR users are able to engage in realistic two-handed interactions and objects thanks to technology capable of providing different variations of force between the motion controllers. Specifically, the Links are “electro-mechanically actuated physical connections capable of rendering variable stiffness between two commodity handheld virtual reality (VR) controllers.”

By allowing users to freely alternate between six degrees of motion and rigidly locked configurations in real-time, switching between independent arm motion and two-handed becomes a breeze.

So say you’re running down a spooky hallway being chased by a flesh-hungry zombie. You’re packing dual pistols which feel great with your two motion controllers, but you’re thinking your shotgun might get the job done quicker. With a Haptic Link attached, simply move your arms into the position of holding a two-handed weapon and the intuitive device immediately locks in place, giving the realistic sensation of holding one large weapon.

This is possible thanks to what Microsoft is calling their “Summoning” input method. Users “make a gesture which moves the controllers into proper positions in turn haptically rendering the object via stiffness. So say you’re chilling in your virtual car with your hands just resting at your side. Lift them up as if you’re gripping a wheel and the device instantly recognizes your gesture, locking into the shape of a steering wheel.

Of course that’s just the start in potential use-case scenarios. Microsoft’s interesting device also support the varying intensity of “stiffness” along a continuous range. Such as feeling the increased tension of a bowstring as you pull the virtual arrow further from the bow and closer to your chest. Restriction in between the controllers also allows for restricted tension that can simulate the feeling of physically holding random objects around the virtual world.

As of right now Microsoft has broken down Haptic Links to three main prototypes: Chain, Layer-Hinge, and Ratchet-Hinge. Each provides their own unique form “summing” via differentiating mechanics. You can learn more about each of these convoluted methods via Microsoft’s official Haptic Link research. As previously stated all of these peripherals are in early testing stages, but based off the results presented so far we could very well be looking at the next evolution of haptic feedback in VR.

About the Scout

Kyle Melnick

Kyle is a writer for VRScout also working in new media production. He's also a part-time bounty hunter.

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