Microsoft wants you to feel more in VR. Today, it announced (opens in new tab) the Touch Rigid Controller (TORC), which can mimic the feel of 3D objects via haptic feedback. The company also said that variations of the technology could also find their way into everything from gamepads to styluses.
Developed in collaboration with Kaist, a national research university in South Korea, TORC "is composed of a rigid shell that has no visible moving parts, yet it can deliver rich haptic feedback and allows high level of dexterity and compliance perception when manipulating virtual objects." The current version of the device is meant to be held between a thumb and two fingers, so the simulated objects have to be pretty small.
TORC will also let people rotate the virtual object, Microsoft said, by moving their thumb while their fingers hold it in place. While that's happening, "rendered vibrations let the fingers feel the object’s properties such as texture and pseudo-compliance." Which is another way of saying that Microsoft figured out how to make an itty-bitty cube vibrate in ways that can trick your fingers into thinking they feel some other kind of object.
Other aspects of TORC will allow people to pick up objects and have more direct control over their actions in VR experiences. Current offerings have to abstract most actions, just like other computers and game systems, but Microsoft wants TORC to make it feel more like someone's directly interacting with the VR world. That would allow VR developers to engage three senses--sight, sound and feel--rather than just two of them.
Combine that with other efforts to make VR more immersive by introducing simulated smells or blowing air in someone's face, and it's not hard to imagine these experiences becoming far more compelling. (Although if the attempts to introduce smell to VR are any indicator, we shudder to think about what the adult industry might have planned for simulated touch.) Then it will become more like VR as imagined by pop culture.
Microsoft will demo TORC at the ACM CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, which runs from May 4-9 in Glasgow, UK.