The Hands Omni: Not Just Full of Air

Kid testing Hands Omni

There are quite a few haptic gloves on the market these days and they have a refreshing variety of approaches when it comes to simulating the sense of touch. The Dexmo F2 used a mechanical exoskeleton design that brakes each individual finger in order to simulate the shape of hard objects in virtual reality. The Gloveone uses vibrotactile actuators to simulate the feeling of raindrops, object weight or button presses. We’ve also seen haptic systems that use electro-stimulation that can replicate feeling a cold breeze or small impacts by directly stimulating the skin, muscles and nerve endings.

The Hands Omni stands out among these solutions by using pneumatics as the basis of its touch simulation. Pneumatics is of course concerned with using pressurized gasses such as air for various applications. In the case of the Gloveone there are tiny air bladders that inflate in precise amounts to simulate touching virtual objects in real time.

Reach out to pick up a ball and the bladders instantly stiffen under your fingertips, creating the feeling of holding the object.

The name isn’t coincidental, the main sponsor of the Hands Omni is Virtuix, creators of the Virtuix Omni treadmill. The Hands Omni is currently not a consumer product yet, but a project by engineering students from Rice University.

The researchers say that the prototype works as intended, but requires streamlining in order to make it viable for production and mainstream use. The existing prototype weighs about 350g, which is already in a very comfortable zone.

Based on the demonstration in various videos it would also appear that the air bladders in the prototype make a fair bit of noise, although it’s unclear how much of that will be present in the final product or whether it will matter to a virtual reality user wearing headphones.

The prototype, which only exists in a right-handed form at the moment, is wireless according to reports. This implies an onboard compressor and power source, although this is speculation at this point.

Since this is such a relatively early project there are no indications of price, nor release date, but adding another means of haptic feedback into the mix can only be a good thing for consumers and developers everywhere.

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