Engineers and software developers are seeking to create technology that lets users touch, grasp, and manipulate virtual objects while feeling like they are actually touching something in the real world. An ultralight glove — weighing less than 8 grams per finger — was developed that enables users to feel and manipulate virtual objects. The system provides extremely realistic haptic feedback and could run on a battery, allowing for freedom of movement.
The DextrES glove can generate up to 40 Newtons of holding force on each finger with just 200 Volts and only a few milliwatts of power. It also has the potential to run on a very small battery. That, together with the glove's low form factor (only 2 mm thick), translates into an unprecedented level of precision and freedom of movement.
DextrES is made of nylon with thin elastic metal strips running over the fingers. The strips are separated by a thin insulator. When the user's fingers come into contact with a virtual object, the controller applies a voltage difference between the metal strips causing them to stick together via electrostatic attraction. This produces a braking force that blocks the finger's or thumb's movement. Once the voltage is removed, the metal strips glide smoothly and the user can once again move his fingers freely.
For now, the glove is powered by a very thin electrical cable, but a very small battery could eventually be used. The next step will be to scale up the device and apply it to other parts of the body using conductive fabric. A potential application exists in training surgeons. The technology could also be applied in augmented reality.