DextrEs: a glove to "touch" virtual reality


It is called DextrEs, it is 2 mm thick and weighs 8 grams per finger. We are talking about a nylon glove created by the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne and by the Polytechnic of Zurich, which enables users to perceive and manipulate virtual objects, providing extremely realistic haptic feedback. 

How does it work? When the metal strips running over the glove come into contact with a virtual object, they produce a braking force that blocks the movement of each single finger, thus giving the impression that the size of the virtual object prevents this. We are talking about forces that generate up to 40 Newtons on each finger, using only 200 Volts and only a few milliWatts of power. Once the voltage is removed, the metal strips relax and the user can once again move his fingers freely. For the time being, the glove is powered by a very thin electrical cable, but thanks to the low voltage required, a very small battery might be sufficient. 

«We wanted to develop a lightweight device that – unlike existing virtual-reality gloves – doesn’t require a bulky exoskeleton, pumps or very thick cables», says Herbert Shea, head of EPFL’s Soft Transducers Laboratory (LMTS). According to the researcher, the next step will be to extend the features of the device to other parts of the body using conductive fabric. «Gamers are currently the biggest market, but there are many other potential applications – especially in healthcare. The technology - concludes Shea - could also be applied in augmented reality». 

We can just about imagine how these technologies can support men in carrying out activities in hazardous environments without having to necessarily be present, rather being a simple "appendix": machines running according to the instructions given by men who, at 'a distance', receive the same neurosensory feedback that they would receive if they were actually present. Where collaborative robots are not sufficient, a mix between human, virtual and remoted reality might be used.