Used creatively, haptic feedback can mechanically simulate touch sensations ranging from the shaking of dice to the roughness of paper — now it’s about to take another big step forward. Focusing on potential AR and VR applications, Microsoft researchers today announced TORC, short for Touch Rigid Controller, a small, physically solid device that uses haptics to replicate the elasticity of squeezed objects.
Unlike complex and expensive VR touch gloves, Microsoft says that the palm-sized shell has no visible moving parts, but uses internal touch and force sensors to detect the position of a moving thumb, plus twin actuators that rumble on two other grasping fingers to simulate textures. As the thumb moves to rotate or press on the object, users feel the feedback of motion and resistance, conveying senses of texture and depth.
The project began as a way to simulate the feeling of squeezing a rubber stress ball in VR — something that’s not possible with consumer-grade controllers today. Though the researchers note that your physical fingers won’t move when you’re squeezing TORC, you’ll be able to see the virtual ball squeezing on screen and feel it in your hand — or similarly be able to grasp and turn keys, pick up and release other objects, and more.
In its current form, TORC is being shown attached to a flightstick-like wand, but the company expects that it will be incorporated into VR and AR controllers. Diagrams include Xbox One– and Windows Mixed Reality-style controllers with areas dedicated to the feature, as well as a stylus that could be squeezed near the tip with an internal actuator.
Microsoft’s research team will be showing TORC off this weekend at the CHI 2019 conference in Glasgow, Scotland. As is typical of these research projects, there’s no set release date for a consumer version of the technology, but this one’s exciting enough that we hope to see it pop up in actual VR and AR controllers soon.