Rendering touch realistically in virtual reality (VR) isn't easy. We've only recently gotten to the point where VR can even recognize hands, let alone create a realistic experience of handling objects. VR headsets are getting cheaper, though, which should lead to greater uptake, and with it, higher demand for more complex experiences. To this end, Microsoft is working on an accessory called the Haptic Pivot Controller, which simulates weight, gravity, momentum, and velocity.
The controller attaches to the wrist, rather than needing to be held in the hand like most existing VR controllers. Using a regular VR controller, the act of plucking an apple from a tree would involve moving the handheld controller, and pushing a button. But with Microsoft's solution, it's possible to feel the virtual apple in your palm, complete with a sense of weight, and close your fingers around it like you would the real thing.
How Haptic PIVOT works — Microsoft's controller has a moving bulb on a hinged arm that can move in conjunction with what's happening in the virtual environment. This enables traditionally overlooked details like the first moment of contact and the movement of VR objects in space. Before you even grab an object or reach for something, the haptic controllers give you a hint of touch, weight, speed, and other physical details.
Isaac Newton would dig it — The company is so confident about its haptic controllers that it reckons Sir Isaac Newton — you know, the dude who came up with the universal theory of gravity and a fan of apples — would approve.
"If Sir Isaac Newton were to have found the inspiration for his laws of motion and gravity from a virtual apple falling from a virtual tree, he would have needed a controller like Pivot," Microsoft says in a company blog post. Technology like Microsoft's Haptic Pivot may not necessarily revolutionize VR as we know it but it definitely indicates that Big Tech is still actively interested in improving headsets and controllers for consumer use, and more importantly, tackling the major question around simulating touch for objects in virtual and augmented reality. If it can get haptics right and offer affordability, VR could become a lot more mainstream.