Fluid Reality: High-Resolution, Untethered Haptic Gloves using Electroosmotic Pump Arrays

Virtual and augmented reality (VR/AR) headsets are entering the consumer mainstream, with tens of millions of headsets sold. These devices continue to make impressive strides in audio-visual immersion, bringing compelling virtual experiences to life. However, when users reach out to physically interact with these virtual worlds, the sense of touch falls !at. The most advanced consumer-grade controllers are inherently limited by their use of vibrotactile haptic actuators, which can only produce clicks and buzzes — an exceedingly small pallet of expressivity with which to represent the rich tactile world. A headline feature of Meta’s recently released Quest Touch Pro Controllers ($299) is that instead of one vibrotactile actuator (as used in the previous generation Quest 2 controllers), there are now three. We do not believe adding more vibration actuators to VR controllers will significantly increase tactile presence and immersion. Instead, we believe that the community must look to entirely different technical opportunities to fully realize the holistic promise of virtual reality. 

In this work, we report a significant advancement in the state of the art for haptic gloves. The tactile output layer of our system is broadly similar to that seen in HaptX and Meta’s haptic gloves — i.e., a deformable 2D arrangement of haptic cell "pixels". However, the underlying technical approach is radically different. We leverage recent advances by Shultz and Harrison in "flat panel haptics" [70] and built our gloves around small embedded electroosmotic pumps (EEOPs). Gloves from HaptX and Meta are similar in capability to ours, but the gloves are tethered to bulky external valves and pumps. Compare this to our wireless or USB tethered approach. which can generate high pressures and fast dynamic flows. This approach to glove making not only offers dramatic miniaturization potential (several orders of magnitude), but also reduces power consumption, weight, and cost, opening the door to truly untethered, high-resolution haptic gloves.

We first detail the construction of our fingertip haptic arrays and characterize their performance. We then explain how our system enables a wide range of expressive capabilities in a VR/AR context. To further validate our approach and underscore its feasibility, we ran a suite of user studies, including tactile shape recognition, texture matching, compliance ordering, and spatial targeting. We conclude with a discussion on present limitations and avenues for future work. In summary, the contributions of this work are:

Research Team: Vivian Shen, Trucker Rae-Grant, Joe Mullenbach, Chris Harrison, and Craig Shultz

Awards: Best Demo Jury's Choice Honorable Mention, People's Choice Demo Honorable Mention


Vivian Shen, Tucker Rae-Grant, Joe Mullenbach, Chris Harrison, and Craig Shultz. 2023. Fluid Reality: High-Resolution, Untethered Haptic Gloves using Electroosmotic Pump Arrays. In Proceedings of the 36th Annual ACM Symposium on User Interface Software and Technology (UIST '23). Association for Computing Machinery, New York, NY, USA, Article 8, 1–20. https://doi.org/10.1145/3586183.3606771

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