Haptic gloves for Quest 2 are a small step toward VR you can touch

The Senseglove Nova haptic gloves are focused on developers, but show the beginnings of what future virtual reality accessories could be.

Scott Stein/CNET

My first attempt at trying VR haptic gloves at home was awkward. I stretched a pair of knit gloves over my hands, snapping on little plastic spikes, delicately screwing on sleeves on the backs of big plastic battery packs. I slotted oculus quest 2 controllers in slots on my gloves. Then for a few minutes I was picking up robotic parts, pressing buttons and pulling levers in VR, and in a weird way, I felt little cables pulling on my fingers, almost like puppet strings. I felt a kind of click of resistance, as my fingers brushed against a virtual soda can and crushed it. I could feel a semblance of what I was doing with my fingers.

The Sensglove Nova The haptic gloves I used are not for everyday Quest 2 owners. First of all, the gloves cost around $5,000. And second, they don’t work with any of the common Quest apps and games. I had to load up a demo app made to work with the gloves, which could pair over Bluetooth with the Quest 2 after putting it in developer mode. The gloves are designed primarily for Windows VR and AR headset users, but can also work with Quest headsets.

But the gloves pose one of the strangest challenges in VR right now: how do the new controls evolve into something everyone can find useful and actually work?

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You can see how the little wires cause resistance and haptic feedback, along the back of my fingers.

Scott Stein/CNET

Virtual reality extensions for your hands

Today’s virtual reality landscape is filled with fun gaming headsets that can’t be worn for long, outfitted with controllers that look like game console gamepads for your wrists. The Quest 2 controllers are what most VR controllers look like, and while they have analog sticks, buttons, and even some finger tracking, they’re made for gaming and maybe exercise, not performance. Controllerless Hand Tracking it works now with the Quest 2 and some other VR and AR headsets, but without any physical input, precise controls are still hard to come by. by microsoft hololens 2, years already, only use manual tracking. Its designer, Alex Kipman, sees physical feedback such as vibration as a next step required.

Facebook’s parent company Meta feels the same way and has already detailed future investigative efforts to do haptic feedback bracelets to wear on the wrist that can detect neural inputs as well as large-scale haptic gloves that use air chambers to create a sense of touch. Companies like HaptX They already make advanced haptic gloves that create a variety of pressure sensations, but the gloves cost tens of thousands of dollars. I have never tried HaptX gloves (I hope to). The Senseglove Nova is the closest I’ve had so far.

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Unpacking the Senseglove Nova gloves at home.

Scott Stein/CNET

The Senseglove Nova cuts the cost (relatively) and they are wireless, something other larger scale haptic gloves are not. They use a combination of tiny wires that pull on my fingers as I move them, simulating resistance and vibrations that feel like the buzz of any smartwatch, phone, or game controller. The gloves arrived in a briefcase, delivered to my house. They’re weird, a bit bulky, with a few clips to hold on hand. They feel like ski gloves with battery packs and woven hardware.

The gloves still require VR controllers to add proper motion detection – the Quest 2 controller mounts I added are like little plastic loops that the Touch controllers slide into. The gloves feel a bit heavy and awkward with the controls on. Also, setting things up correctly and launching the app means taking off your gloves and asking someone for help.

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Controller adapters are needed for tracking on Oculus and Steam VR, which adds a bit to the bulk of handwear.

Scott Stein/CNET

Does it feel like touching things? More or less, not really, sometimes

When I reach out to grab objects in the app, it feels familiar based on my previous Oculus experience; after all, simple hand tracking does similar things. The difference occurs when I make contact with virtual things. I feel a tug on my fingers, like a puppeteer pulling back on the strings of my finger puppet. Also, a kind of vibration click. You may feel flawed or like making contact. Synchronization with world objects is not always perfect in my short demo.

I don’t feel like I can “feel” the edges of things, or the hue of an object. If I were blindfolded, I would have no idea what these sensations mean. It’s designed now to be more of a useful feedback system for the otherwise feel-free world of hand tracking. Using the Quest controllers for tracking also improves tracking accuracy compared to using headset cameras to search for fingers and hands.

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The gloves paired with a Quest 2 plus Quest Controllers – a lot of gear!

Scott Stein/CNET

How will something get better soon?

In VR, my biggest concern for things like “work” or using a headset as a kind of monitor extension for my computer is… can things get any better than those clunky controllers? Leaving them and switching to manual tracking works, but it’s not ideal.

Companies like HTC have wristbands Vive wrist trackers this year they’ll work to improve hand tracking in VR, but they’re designed for commercial use and don’t have any vibrating haptics. Facebook/Meta wrist trackers for AR/VR may still be years away. Use of experimental work applications as Horizon Workrooms, which admirably tried to map my laptop’s keyboard and screen in VR, can work…sometimes.

Haptic gloves are a VR dream as old as the 90s cyberpunk books I read as a kid, or any future VR utopia/dystopia similar to Ready Player One. That said, I was fine with taking the gloves off again. after a few minutes of demonstration, gently pulling your fingers out of the knitwear, being careful of the gaps between the plastic and the wires. We are not there yet. But devices like the Senseglove Nova are showing the struggles that still lie ahead in finding the right way to figure it all out.

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