Microsoft Studies Haptic Controller that Simulates Momentum and Gravity

Microsoft haptic PIVOT controller
Image: Microsoft

Microsoft’s research division is working on a new design of Virtual Reality that could make the haptics as realistic as having a motorized handle on your wrist.

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When you pick an apple from a tree, you experience various sensations: at first you feel the firmness of the apple, when you tug the apple you feel resistance, once you’ve plucked the apple you feel the weight of the apple on your palm and the smooth, round surface under your fingertips.

“In recent years, steady progress in haptic controllers from Microsoft Research has moved us toward a virtual reality (VR) experience in which those feelings will be on par with the awe-inspiring and realistic visual renderings being produced today by head-mounted displays. With previous devices such as NormalTouch, we can simulate a virtual object’s surface inclination and texture on the tip of an individual’s index finger,” reports Microsoft.

At the heart of the company’s new Haptic PIVOT controller is a motorized hinge and handle systems that sit on your wrist.

CLAW is a multifunctional handheld haptic controller for grasping, touching, and triggering in Virtual Reality. CLAW enables a person to feel they’ve grabbed an object between their fingers to explore its compliance and elasticity, and TORC allows a new level of dexterity, parallel to real life. TORC is a virtual reality controller for in-hand high-dexterity finger interaction. Using these prototypes, a person can feel the surface of a virtual apple, squeeze the virtual fruit, and move it around in their hands. However, to facilitate a complete interaction with that apple in its virtual surroundings, we also have to take into account the dynamics of the objects in the space. Now, with Haptic PIVOT, we bring the physics of forces to VR controllers. Worn on the wrist, PIVOT is a portable device with a haptic handle that moves in and out of the hand on demand.

Haptic PIVOT controller
PIVOT not only enables grasping virtual objects, but dropping, throwing, and catching them, as well. (Image: Microsoft)

This is how it works:

  1. In idle state, PIVOT’s handle is folded away, leaving the hand free.
  2. As the user approaches the apple, the handle moves closer to the hand.
  3. PIVOT’s handle touches the user’s hand in synchrony with the virtual apple and detects the grasp
  4. While plucking the apple, the handle pulls backward, rendering the reaction force of the bending branch
  5. When the apple plucks, PIVOT fires low-frequency vibration inside the handle, creating a “thud” sensation
  6. Finally, when releasing the handle, the apple leaves the virtual hand with matching velocity.

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“This capability makes PIVOT ideal for augmented reality or blended scenarios. An individual can be typing on a keyboard, using a mouse, or working with other physical objects in her environment. Whenever needed, a quick flick of the wrist can initiate PIVOT to rotate the handle into the person’s palm so she can interact with virtual objects. The handle can be retracted with another flick of the wrist. Both summoning actions are detected by an internal accelerometer,” Microsoft said.

Haptic PIVOT is Microsoft’s research project, and it may never see the light of day. However, it could inspire other companies to approach the problem of VR haptics in similar ways.

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Sam Draper
Sam Draper () is Online Editor at WT | Wearable Technologies specialized in the field of sports and fitness but also passionated about any new lifestyle gadget on the market. Sam can be contacted at press(at)