Long before Facebook officially renamed itself Meta – a signal to the world that it was becoming more serious about virtual and augmented reality technologies – the company had begun revealing key parts of its anticipated metaverse.
Its Meta Quest 2 (born Oculus Quest 2) was already considered one of the best wireless VR headsets on the market. Recently, executives from Meta Reality Labs unveiled the company’s research and development arm, a wrist laptop that translates electrical motor nerve signals into digital commands and an upcoming “Project Cambria” headset to support realistic avatars and advanced eye-tracking.
Now the controversial social media company – because it’s still a social media company, and it’s still controversial – is revealing yet another of these future VR prototypes. This time it is a haptic glove designed to give the user sensations that mimic the weight and feel of real objects when handled in virtual space. Wear this glove and you can be sure that you are holding the real thing (or something close to it), even when the object is completely digital.
Michael Abrash, chief researcher at Meta Reality Labs, and Sean Keller, director of research science at Labs, say the haptic glove has been in the works for several years and is still nowhere near being released to the public. But it’s another part of the big AR / VR image for Meta, where sight and sound and touch merge to make an expanded digital world more realistic.
“What we’re trying to do is figure out how to give you rich feedback so your hands will be fully useful,” Abrash says. “This is a key piece and one of the toughest, long-term most risky pieces, but once this is in place, then VR can truly become an environment where just about anything is possible that you are effectively capable of doing. “
The problem that Meta is trying to solve is a real problem in VR, one that other companies have also addressed. Put on a VR headset and you are cut off from the real world. Put on a VR headset with tracking inside and out – the term most often used to describe sensors and cameras that capture the environment around you – and it becomes more manageable to move around in VR.
But when you then try to use your physical hands to pick up virtual objects, the whole flirtation with VR falls again. It suddenly feels disorienting. Controllers, like the ones that come with Quest 2, are a decent proxy for hands and at least allow you to navigate menus or play games while wearing a full headset. However, these are mostly input devices and do not give you the kind of tactile feedback you would get with your actual hands.