The VR Smart Glove is a culmination of over a decade of research in the development of real-time motion sensing for the human body, incorporating the latest technologies needed to bridge the human and digital worlds with wide ranging application of Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality and Robotics. To deliver the VR Glove, the Wireless Sensor Network Group at the Tyndall Institute and TSSG, partnered with Design Partners for the specialisation in designing experiences where technology meets the human body.
The team’s ambition was to create an input device that naturally transports your hands into the virtual world amplifying the immersive experience, and unlocking creativity with a new level of interaction. Design Partners was asked to help refine how the technology interacted with the human body, how it would appeal to a defined audience and ultimately how it could be mass produced. This collaboration allowed the project to build upon existing innovation that showed significant benefits over existing competition.
"The Smart Glove is a key technology enabler unlocking the ability to create truly immersive VR experiences across a variety of sectors"
Kevin Doolin, Director of Innovation at TSSG
After aligning the team’s ambition and gathering all data that was essential to understanding the performance of the technology, our initial research was a review of existing VR and AR technology, understanding the competitors in the field and finding the audience market segment on which the team should focus. Our insights led us towards game and content developers; a demographic known for hacking and experimenting, while also familiar with an open source approach to creating new experiences. The video gaming market is a clear emerging opportunity for VR controllers and is also particularly relevant to the expertise of Design Partners.
An important fundamental step was the establishment of a modular approach to the VR Glove’s physical construct and user experience, in order to match the varying requirements of developer groups. Such as; where one game developer would look to create a virtual experience with point and pinch gestures – emphasising the thumb and index finger sensors, another developer would seek to create a precise tutorial for surgical training requiring very complete and detailed articulation of every joint in the hand. Ultimately, we looked to deliver a user experience that would unlock people’s creativity, and allow for different use-cases across platforms with exciting plug-and-play adaptability.
Ergonomics and human factors engineering was central to the Smart Glove design process. Establishing the limits and opportunities of the technology from a cognitive and movement perspective was our first priority. The critical dimensions of the hand were identified and balanced with the optimal layout of sensors and components.
A variety of ‘experience prototypes’ were created throughout the process using our in-house prototyping facility in order to test functionality, to validate proof of concepts, and to ensure the anthropometric data met the 99th percentile of users. Giving users full freedom of motion including open hand, closed fist and palmarflexion (angling of the wrist) was a goal we achieved. The unit was also designed to be easily adjustable and tailored for the end user. We created a specification for each component that allowed Tyndall to refine their technology packages in line with the physical design.
To create a design that was both practical and visually exciting the positioning of key components was separated. The main components and batteries were placed on the wrist in the main hub and a secondary hub was used to track the back of the hand and to accommodate plugging multiple sensors into the unit. This allowed flexibility for the end user to determine how many fingers they want to track – a physical sandbox experience.
The unit was designed to be ambidextrous, with a second USB port incorporated to allow fitting to either hands. A removable strap accounts for varying wrist sizes as well as future proofing for fabric glove variants. Rings that slide onto the IMU’s casings allow for quick removable and set up – Stems connect the IMU’s back to the Hub, allowing for a full range of movement. IMU’s house the Sensors, Piazo’s and IR leds.
The glove is a state of the art motion capture and biomechanical modelling platform, that is based on micro-electromechanical (MEMS) inertial sensor technology and high definition Haptic Feedback to provide the most advanced virtual reality experience.
The team of researchers behind the Smart Glove – Haptic Human Computer Interface System for VR/AR and robotics – won the ‘Outstanding Academic Achievement in the field of Digital Technology’ category of the Technology Ireland Software Award.
The Smart Glove is already making an impact with some of the largest technology companies, with far reaching applications beyond the gaming industry. Head of Tyndall’s Wireless Sensor Networks group, Dr Brendan O’Flynn, commented: “the development of this technology will enable a seamless interface between the wearer and the Augmented Reality/Virtual Reality world which is increasingly part of our daily life, not just in the consumer and gaming communities.”