Virtual reality headsets like the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift can create realistic virtual worlds, and motion controllers can even let you interact with objects in them. However, this is the part of the VR experience that can feel less than immersive. While you can see all these virtual objects, you can’t feel them. A Chinese company called Dexta Robotics wants to change that with claw-like exoskeleton gloves called Dexmo.
The idea is that objects in VR should have a certain size, as indicated by the way they are rendered. If a computer knows how large something is and the position of your hand, it should theoretically be able to generate a tactile response. The result could be true feedback on your fingers as you close them around a virtual rubber duck or the handle of a rocket launcher. Those objects would have different sizes, shapes, and even consistencies.
Dexmo is wireless and (allegedly) light enough that it won’t be fatiguing to use. There’s a loop for each fingertip, which is connected to an arm that pulls back on your fingers to simulate the force of grasping an object. It has kind of a spider-y vibe when you see it in action.
In addition to simulating how large an object in VR is, Dexmo can provide a sense of firmness by varying how abrupt the arms pull back on your fingers. For example, the handle of a sword would have very little give. But you’d experience a more gradual increase in force as you closed your hand around a virtual pillow.
As you can see in the demo video above, the Dexmo exoskeleton appears to exist in real life (there have been a few earlier prototypes, too). Dexta Robotics has created custom software to test the exoskeleton, and that’s all it works with right now. The company says it doesn’t want to release Dexmo until there’s actually consumer software available that can take advantage of it. That’s going to mean getting together with one of the big VR makers. The bulk of the demo uses an HTC Vive, which has better motion control than the competition right now — you can see the controllers fastened to the gloves. The company has also tested Dexmo with HoloLens, the Oculus Rift, and real-world applications like controlling robots.
Gaming is the obvious use case right now, but virtual reality in general will likely have more applications in the future. Integrating a sense of touch into the virtual world could be the next big step in recreating the Star Trek holodeck. However, Dexta Robotics hasn’t speculated on how much its exoskeleton gloves might cost. They sure look expensive.