Microsoft explores realistic VR haptics with a wrist-mounted gadget

Meet Haptic PIVOT.


With recent headsets like the Oculus Quest 2 and Valve Index, VR headsets have never been in a better place from a graphical fidelity standpoint. But as much as the touch controllers that come with those devices have improved as well, it can still feel like you’re disconnected from the game world while playing a game like Half-Life: Alyx. A new design from Microsoft’s research division could make the haptics of VR just as realistic as its visuals with a quirky design that puts a motorized handle on your wrist.

Yes, you read that correctly: at the heart of the company’s new Haptic PIVOT controller is a motorized hinge and handle systems that sit on your wrist. The handle includes a suite of capacitive touch sensors that allow it to detect when you touch and release an object in VR. What’s nifty about the design is that it can move as fast as needed to keep up with your movements so that the controller is in sync with what’s happening on the screen. What’s more, two PIVOT controllers can also work in conjunction with one another to simulate what it’s like to hold an object with two hands.

While it can look a bit goofy in action, the design of the Haptic PIVOT allows it to recreate the sensation you feel when you first make contact with an object. That’s something current haptic controllers, including ones that feature glove designs, have trouble replicating realistically.

Another advantage of the PIVOT is that the handles retract when they’re not in use. Microsoft says that it allows you to use it with a keyboard and mouse. It’s just as easy to imagine how that feature could allow you to use it with another VR controller, opening up interesting opportunities for game developers. “Introducing the wrist form factor, or design, into our offerings presented an opportunity to provide a wider range of actions without interfering with the physical environment around the player,” the team that worked on the design said.

To be clear, the Haptic PIVOT is a research project, and we may never see Microsoft commercialize the design. But it could inspire other companies to approach the problem of VR haptics in similarly inventive ways.

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