Apple proposes VR glove that lets you feel virtual textures

By

Apple’s proposed VR glove
A proposed Apple VR glove lets you feel the virtual items you see.
Photo: Apple/Cult of Mac

Apple engineers laid the groundwork for a pair of gloves that would let users feel objects displayed by virtual reality or augmented reality.

The idea of gloves with haptic feedback isn’t new, but a newly-received patent shows Apple continues to put considerable research and development effort into cutting-edge VR and AR.

The company today was awarded a patent for Finger beam for generating haptic feedback (#10,481,688). For the most part, the wording for this is quite technical, using “finger beam” to describe sensors and haptic feedback components wrapped around each digit. These are then combined into gloves.

Naturally, the glove Apple designed can detect the movements of the wearer’s hands, and use those to control items on screen. These have been around since the early days of VR. But Apple’s proposal doesn’t stop there.

Apple VR glove lets you touch what you see

The engineers behind this patent want sensory information to flow the other way, so that someone wearing the glove can feel the virtual item they are touching.

And not just the basic shape. The patent filing describes sensing texture as well:

“For example, as shown in FIG. 1, the display 152 presents a virtual reality game that can be played by the user. The display 152 can depict a beach scene that shows an ocean, waves, trees, and sand. A haptic feedback component 120 of the wearable haptic apparatus 110 can be configured to generate haptic feedback that simulates the differences in the different textures, sensations, and perceptions associated with the ocean, waves, trees, and sand. In one example, while the user is watching the display 152 and perceiving that he is running his fingers through sand, the haptic feedback component 120 can be configured to receive instructions from the electronic device 150 that causes the haptic feedback component 120 to provide a continuous sequence of electrical pulses having a repeating waveform that simulates the rough texture of the sand. “

But reign in your expectations. Getting this patent only required coming up with the concept of a new device. It doesn’t mean Apple has actually built the VR glove described here. Or even that it has the technology to make it possible.

Companies regularly patent ideas without then turning around and making them into shipping products. That might be true this time.

On the other hand, the VR/AR push now expected in a few years might include Apple Glasses as well as Apple Glove.