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'Skin stretch' controller adds new kind of feedback to games

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A new controller prototype looks to add yet another kind of feedback to games, with thumbsticks that can lightly stretch the skin on your thumbs.

Skin stretching controller
Skin stretching controller

If the feedback of rumbling controllers just isn't enough, there's always skin-stretching thumbsticks. Researchers at the University of Utah are developing just that, with a new controller prototype that includes thumbsticks with small red circles, called "tactors," embedded in the middle. These tactors can move independently of the stick, stretching the skin on your thumb to provide additional feedback. The effect appears to be pretty gentle, with professor William Provancher telling the BBC that "the feeling is very similar to what you get if you place your finger down on a table top and drag it across."

The controller was demonstrated with a fishing game, in which the tactor can move on your thumbs to simulate the feeling of the waves as you wait for a bite, as well as the jerking sensation of a fish fighting to get off the line. The team behind the controller says it can also be used to simulate everything from explosions and gun recoil to the feeling of a soldier crawling around on their belly. The next phase of the research involves making the skin stretching work alongside other forms of feedback — including vibration and sound — but the team hopes to have the controller reach the production stage by the time the next generation of game consoles starts to roll out.