SBIR Phase II: Touch and Feel a Virtual Object with Life-like Realism

Period of Performance: 09/01/2016 - 08/31/2018


Phase 2 SBIR

Recipient Firm

225 Wyman Street
Waltham, MA 02451
Firm POC, Principal Investigator


The broader impact/commercial potential of this project is to create a suite of consumer hardware and software products that provide realistic tactile feedback to users who are touching objects in virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR). As evidenced by the current proliferation of low-cost head-mounted displays and motion tracking systems, three-dimensional interaction technologies are revolutionizing how people interact with computers, media, and each other. Since they are currently limited to vision and audio, endowing consumer-level human-computer interfaces with high-fidelity tactile feedback will vastly increase user immersion, making games more fun, online interactions more effective, and tools more efficient. Consequently, this project has the potential to expand the commercial reach of the burgeoning VR/AR market, opening up myriad opportunities for companies particularly in the gaming, entertainment, and e-commerce sectors. The innovation of this project also promises to enhance scientific and technological understanding of haptic human-computer interaction by establishing a new paradigm that blends minimal wearable hardware with sophisticated software algorithms. Finally, commercializing novel interactive technology also has the potential to help inspire a diverse array of young people to pursue a career in the critical areas of science, technology, engineering, and math. This Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase 2 project aims to advance knowledge of low-cost technology that can provide realistic tactile feedback to a user touching objects in VR or AR: the project?s intellectual merits center on testing a new approach that combines minimal haptic hardware and sophisticated software algorithms. The research objective is to create a fully functional industrial prototype of a wearable fingertip thimble and custom software that embody the proposed approach. When the user's finger moves to touch a virtual object, a platform inside the thimble will initiate contact with the fingerpad and press with a force that varies with penetration distance, to render surface softness. A thermal actuator will convey the object?s thermal conductivity and temperature. When the finger slides along a virtual object, the user will feel its texture via carefully designed platform vibrations. Specific research tasks to be addressed include exploring haptic actuator options, building a library of haptic object properties (HOPs) that can be applied to virtual objects, and creating a communication protocol for exchanging haptic signals among devices. This project is expected to yield a fully functional industrial prototype and developer kits for the wearable fingertip thimble.