5 Most Interesting VR Haptic Technologies Seen in the Last 5 Years

5 Most Interesting VR Haptic Technologies Seen in the Last 5 Years

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Next to sight and sound, haptics is one of the most suspended fruits to create immersion in virtual reality. But beyond the rumble we have in today’s VR controllers, there are plenty of other immersive haptic technologies that haven’t yet been widely adopted.

Over the years, I’ve been lucky enough to see a wide range of VR haptic solutions ranging from “incredible but impractical” to “simple and somehow unadopted”. Here is an overview of the five most interesting haptic demos that have stuck with me over the past five years.

A joystick that pushes back

Photo by Road to VR

While it might be hard to imagine how certain haptic technologies would fit into a standard pair of VR controllers, Foldaway Haptics’ Force Feedback Joystick seems like a strong candidate.

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In 2019, I was able to demonstrate the device, which takes the form of an origami-like structure that can tilt in any direction. The company has managed to make it work like a regular joystick for thumb input, with the added benefit of being able to push or pull against your thumb in any direction. What’s more, what is normally a simple “click” when pressing down on a thumbstick for input can become continuous pressure with varying force depending on the situation.

I tried the running prototype with a Vive headset and a small demo game built by Foldaway. In the game, I saw a miniature cartoon farm in front of me at waist height; a few different animals were running on the floor. When I reached out to grab an animal, I pressed the joystick to “grab” the animal between my hand and my thumb. Grabbing the animal, the joystick went stiff (let me know I had successfully grabbed something).

Each animal had somewhat different haptic properties. The pig, for example, was a bit “squishy” which allowed me to push my thumb a little on the stick. The penguin was “harder” so the wand resisted my thumb a lot more. If I squeezed too hard, the force feedback would break and the joystick would bottom out until I let go (I think this is to protect the motors and mechanism from damage).

Co-founder Marco Salerno told me that the current prototype is capable of pushing back with two newtons (about the force of two apples resting on your hand), although they could eventually push up to 15 newtons with compromises of different design.

Beyond force feedback only in the up and down direction, the joystick can also tilt against your finger rather than just push it back. This allows you to transmit directional information through touch, which is very important because the simple vibrating haptics of any consumer controller (VR or otherwise) cannot transmit arbitrary directional information.

Directional haptics like the Foldaway device are particularly useful with respect to rumble because they can indicate force in arbitrary directions, rather than just amplitude without a specific position or orientation (which is all you get with a typical rumble) .

A simple touch goes a long way

Photo by Road to VR

In 2017 I saw such an interesting haptic demo that I wrote this title (which I still agree with): Go Touch VR’s haptic feedback is so simple you’ll wonder why you didn’t not thought of first.

Call it obvious, but this is the first time I’ve seen Go Touch VR’s approach to VR haptics, which provides nothing more than variable force against the top of your finger at the using a flat piece of plastic that rolls back and with a small motor. Simple, yet surprisingly compelling. The sensation is very similar to what you feel when you press your finger against a flat surface like a desk.

The typical controller rumble is broadly applicable to shooters where you expect a gun to rumble in your hand. And yet in VR we also find many experiences where you don’t shoot, but grab, touch and manipulate objects in VR that wouldn’t vibrate in real life, making it difficult to use rumble to convey meaningful and direct feedback. .

It’s this input, touch and manipulation where Go Touch VR’s “VR Touch” haptics hope to excel. Based on what CEO Eric Vezzoli calls a “Real Contact Sensation” haptic approach, VR Touch is a simple, compact device that attaches to your fingertips and provides nothing more than a plastic pad that can exercise different levels of force against the top of your fingertip.

This force can create a surprisingly convincing sensation of touching and grasping objects with your fingers. Rather than an abstract rumble, VR Touch gives the illusion of objects repelling directly against your fingers.

The Go Touch haptic solution is basically inexpensive considering how it works, and seems to pair easily with a pair of VR gloves, or as a single module that would attach to your fingertip to provide the haptics and some input in conjunction with finger tracking.

Play with fire and ice

Photo by Road to VR

Everyone knows that the best video games always have a lava level and an ice level… in VR, what if you could smell them?

That’s where Korea-based TEGway hopes to step in with its ThermoReal haptics that made me believe in the viability of thermal haptics for immersion when I first tried it in 2017.

I’ve tried a few different thermal haptics devices throughout my VR reporting, but nothing has really impressed me. Usually the effects are hard to notice because they aren’t particularly hot or cold, and they take so long to activate that it’s hard to sell the illusion that the effect is caused by something happening. in the virtual world.

I got to try out the ThermoReal thermoelectric skin at the Vive X Batch 2 demo day in San Francisco this week and it led me to believe for the first time in the value of thermal haptics. This is thanks to three things:


ThermoReal, which is a thermoelectric generator based on the so-called Seebeck effect, is incredibly fast to react. I held a prototype wand that had the ThermoReal skin embedded in it while I watched a video of a man jumping into a river. As he plunged into the water, I felt the wand go cold to the touch. Another video showed a car exploding and the heat effect kicked in almost immediately with very little “spin up” time. Keep an eye on the “thermal imaging” section of the clip above to see how quickly the device is changing temperature.

In addition to hot and cold, the device can do both at the same time in close proximity, which is perceived as an amplified “pain” effect compared to just using heat alone.


It is not only the speed of the hot or cold effect, but also its magnitude. I was impressed with how the device could reach its maximum cold level so quickly.

Even more than the cold effect, the heat effect was so strong that I sometimes had to loosen my grip on the ThermoReal prototype; I sincerely feared that the device would burn me. I asked one of the creators if there was a risk of injury and was told that the device would only heat up to 4°C above body temperature. From how hot it was, I’m still skeptical of that claim, although it’s possible the assess increased heat (rather than the measured temperature itself) could signal my brain to feel more severe; I will be interested to know more about the minimum and maximum possible temperatures of the device.

Form factor

Photo by Road to VR

Thermoelectric generators like ThermoReal are nothing new. What’s new, says TEGway, is the form factor of their device. It takes the form of a flexible array of skin-like conductors that can be curved and wrapped around various surfaces, which could make it perfect for integration into VR controllers, gloves, or even suits.

The first ThermoReal demo I tried was just a static non-VR demo to show how quickly the thermal skin could change temperature and how that could be created for content. By 2020, the company had incorporated the technology into accessories for arms, hands, and a VR headset.

The company showed off a rudimentary but working VR demo using the ThermoReal dev kit with an HTC Vive. In the demo, a character throws fireballs or snowballs at you; the gloves on each hand would react with the appropriate temperature effect depending on which one was thrown and which hand you blocked the ball with. If the fireball or snowball hits you in the face, you will feel the temperature on your face thanks to the forehead-mounted haptic unit.

Photo by Road to VR

The demo also demonstrated an interesting haptic effect which, while using temperature differences, conveyed something different than just hot or cold. In the demo, you can extend a light shield over your hand that would block incoming projectiles and disperse their energy through the shield. The haptics of the glove and sleeve responded by rapidly alternating between hot and cold, creating a really interesting feeling of “force”; the sensation of hot and cold spreading rapidly across my arm created a unique sensation that could be used for more general haptic feedback than just indicating what things are hot and cold.

While the solution offered a very exciting new dimension of haptic sensations for VR, expecting users to attach additional accessories when embarking on VR is generally a non-starter for widespread adoption. . As I concluded at the time: “Clearly thermal haptics would be much more viable if integrated into the things VR users are already holding or wearing (like controllers and headsets). A separate “wearable” accessory from ThermoReal would likely be relegated to non-consumer use cases like training, rehabilitation, simulation, and perhaps out-of-home VR attractions.

Continue to Page 2: Directional Haptics with Simple Hardware »

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