One of the most direct ways to combine both tactile force feedback and precise motion capturing is to strap a robotic exoskeleton to your body. This may bring back images of quite scary mechanical feedback and capture systems from the early days of virtual reality, but with modern plastics, electronics and manufacturing methods there is no reasons why such exoskeletons can’t be a practical mainstream solution.
Dexta Robotics seems to agree with that sentiment and has two products that are intended as haptic and motion capture technology for the general user. The Dexmo Classic and Dexmo F2 exoskeletons are small and light devices that attach to the hand and fingers, tracking the movements of each hand.
The Dexmo Classic captures eleven degrees of freedom per hand. Three of which are dedicated to the thumb. This results in detailed skeletal tracking immediately ready for real time virtual reality use.
The Dexmo F2 takes the functionality of the Classic and adds force feedback to it. At the moment the F2 only offers simple on/off force feedback. What this means is that you can freely move a joint until it comes into contact with a virtual object’ surface. The joint then locks. In other words you’ll get the sensation you are holding something solid, but hard. Feeling soft objects, such as a rubber ball, would require a system with varying degrees of resistance in the different joints. Dexmo have said that this is on their radar.
Although no price has been officially released we know that the Dexmo is specifically being designed for a mainstream consumer market. Cost-effectiveness is in the core DNA of their approach. The Dexmos don’t use any sort of inertial sensors, but use cheap rotational sensors instead. The construction is injection molded plastic and Chinese production resources will be used to enable economies of scale.
The use cases for the currently envisioned models of Dexmo are quite diverse. Dexta Robotics lists some of the following:
- Robotic manipulation
- Animation Motion Capture
- Various virtual reality interactions
- Medical rehabilitation
The Dexmo needs to be calibrated once for a particular user and this approach doesn’t provide accurate fingertip tracking. It also goes without saying that exoskeletons are more bulky than gloves with flex sensors (which are very expensive), but the Dexmo appears to stay on the right side of the dividing line between practical and useless in that regard.
The Dexmo is certainly a product that is both different and interesting in the mainstream consumer space. There’s an undeniable “cool” factor to the device. If Dexta Robotics can crack the issue of soft-object haptics and remain in the same consumer ballpark as their current offerings, then the Dexmo might just carve out a solid niche for itself in the virtual reality market.