Dr. William Provancher at the University of Utah builds fantastic toys, like robots that can climb up carpeted walls and gamepads which let players touch a virtual surface. Now, he's trying to commercialize a game controller that lets you feel virtual objects as if they existed in the real world.
His new company Tactical Haptics has dubbed the technology "Reactive Grip," and it actually works surprisingly well: we tried a prototype unit at GamesBeat 2013 last week, and were immediately impressed by how realistic the sensation felt. When we swung a virtual sword or mace through the air, we could almost feel the weight shifting in our hand. Firing a virtual gun produced noticible directional recoil.
The illusion of weight
All the technology actually does is move four sliding plates up and down the grip underneath your hand, but that's enough to maintain the illusion. When they all move the same direction, it feels like an object has some real weight, that it's resisting your motions. Perhaps the most interesting demo we tried was a slingshot, where we could pull and twist the stretchy material and get a sense of torque.
The company's already received funding for research and development with a grant from the US National Science Foundation, but today it's taking to Kickstarter to commercialize the tech. Tactical Haptics is hoping to raise $175,000 by selling development kits for $179 each. Provancher tells us that he eventually hopes to produce a consumer version for under $100, but it's worth noting that doesn't include the cost of the motion control parts.
Currently, the company's prototypes use parts from the Razer Hydra, but the dev kits and eventual consumer model will fit one of the modular Sixense Stem trackers, another Kickstarter project. The Stem starts at $149 for early adopters, so it could cost a good bit of money to get a complete controller set if you just want to play around.