Oculus filed a patent application for a system that would allow VR experiences to provide more accurate tactile feedback. This would be accomplished using materials of varying rigidity depending on your body's flexibility--so your hand would be covered with a soft material, for example, while your forearm might be clad in something a little stiffer. Actuators in the rigid portions could let you "feel" something in VR without limiting your motion.
The patent application didn't reveal much about how this might be used in a consumer product. Oculus used a glove in its example, but the accompanying illustration looks more like a kindergartner's Thanksgiving drawing than something from which we could imagine a final product. That doesn't come as much of a surprise--the patent office isn't an art gallery--but we would've appreciated a better look at how this system might work.
Oculus was more forthcoming in the patent's text. The company started with a summary of VR's potential to immerse you in a different world, often via HMDs like the company's Rift, which use sounds and visuals to make you feel like you're shooting a bunch of humanoid robots instead of hanging out in your office. (Or experiencing whichever virtual world you happen to enjoy the most.) This system could add more tactile feedback to the mix.
Here's what the company said in its summary of the system:
Using different material stiffnesses for different portions of the control allows the user to more easily move parts of the user's body contacting less stiff portions of the control while also allowing the VR system to provide more effective tactile feedback by applying force to stiffer portions of the control (e.g. via actuators coupled to the stiffer portions of the control).
Making it feel like you're actually touching something in VR could go a long way towards making the experience more immersive. Touching virtual objects with the Oculus Touch motion controller or Manus VR gloves is one thing; having virtual objects "touch" you in the real world is another. Combining that concept with a system that enables more fine-grained motion control, like a glove, would be the next step in VR feedback and input.
Tom's Hardware reached out to Oculus to learn more about this patent application, but we haven't received a response. It's worth noting that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg shared pictures from a visit to Oculus in February, and one of them showed off a glove prototype meant to let you "draw, type on a virtual keyboard, and even shoot webs like Spider-Man" in VR. We wouldn't be surprised if the two projects were related.