On Tuesday Facebook, er, Meta, published a blog post showing off the work it is doing on bringing the sense of touch to the worlds of virtual and augmented reality with haptic gloves. The post caught the attention of Seattle-based Haptx, which is a company that has been designing similar technology since 2012. In a statement to Geekwire, Haptx CEO Jake Rubin said Meta’s gloves “appear to be substantively identical to HaptX’s patented technology.”
Meta says the gloves it is working on are the result of the work it’s done in four distinct areas of research: perceptual science, soft robotics, microfluidics, and hand tracking. One of those areas, microfluidics, is an area Haptx is heavily invested in, as it goes a long way in solving the problem of how to put a huge number of sensors on a haptic glove in a way that’s unobtrusive. This is a much more accurate and tunable solution than current methods, which include force feedback and vibration. Also, traditional mechanical sensors and actuators generate too much heat, thus the need for a different technology.
Haptx’s Gloves DK2 feature microfluidic skin with 130 sensors per-hand, and is able to displace skin up to 2mm, according to the Haptx website. Though Meta doesn’t go into detail about the specs of its gloves, it states, “…it’s building the world’s first high-speed microfluidic processor — a tiny microfluidic chip on the glove that controls the air flow that moves the actuators, by telling the valves when and how far to open and close.” Haptx CEO Rubin told Geekwire similarities between the two designs include, “a silicone-based microfluidic tactile feedback laminate and pneumatic control architecture.”
Here’s a look at our haptic glove research and the advances in soft robotics, microfluidics, hand tracking, haptic rendering, and perceptual science that that work entails: https://t.co/v8eFG4vtBu pic.twitter.com/bFQmwt0TNH
— Facebook Reality Labs (@RealityLabs) November 16, 2021
These microfluidic systems will allow air to flow through micro channels on the surface of the glove, with the air flow controlled by tiny actuators. The gloves would also have to know where they are in relation to other objects in the world, how much pressure to apply to which part of the hand, and for how long, so it’s easy to see why the prototype gloves Meta is showing look like they are the opposite of comfortable. Meta also notes in a very deep-dive blog that one of the big challenges with the current state of AR and VR, there is no current technology that can stop your hand if you tried to push it through a solid object such as a wall or desk, or something that would stop your hand from closing completely when picking up an object such as a piece of fruit.
As far as Haptx’s claims go, the CEO made a statement to Geekwire that certainly sounds like the company is considering its legal options. He noted, HaptX would “look forward to working with them to reach a fair and equitable arrangement that addresses our concerns and enables them to incorporate our innovative technology into their future consumer products.” Geekwire reached out to Meta about these claims, but received no response from Meta.
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