CMU Tech Enables Users To High Five And Touch Solid Surfaces In Virtual Reality

May 11, 2020

A new virtual reality device gives users another sense when it comes to VR experiences: touch. It was developed by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University.

Examples of applications for Wireality.
Credit Courtesy of Carnegie Mellon University

Cathy Fang, a CMU mechanical engineering and human-computer interaction student, said her dream scenarios for how the tech could be used include high-fiving game characters and virtual furniture shopping.

Virtual reality has come a long way in presenting an experience that looks and sounds real. But once users stick their hand through a wall, spatial awareness returns and actual reality sets in. By working with the headset software, Fang said Wireality takes the theater of VR a step further.

"Not only would it allow me to feel like some person's in front of me, I can also interact with them in a 'physical' way," she said.

Wireality works by attaching the users hands, wrists and fingers to a spring-loaded string mechanism that uses a motion sensor to communicate with the VR headset. When a user's hand comes up against a virtual object, the strings lock —not unlike the way a car seatbelt stops when a driver hits the break. 

It doesn’t use a motor, which Fang said sets it apart from other similar devices in development.

“Most of the parts that we use for the current design are all off-the-shelf components,” Fang said. “Parts that need to be customized can be 3-D printed or laser cut.”

There isn’t yet a timeline for when the device could be available to the market, but according to Fang, Wireality would weigh about 10 ounces and cost less than $50. 

The device stops short of letting users pick up objects and feel texture in the virtual world, but Fang said combining this tech with other touch tech would create a fuller virtual reality experience. 

WESA receives funding from Carnegie Mellon University.