Standard VR controllers are great for interacting and manipulating objects in simulated environments, but they cannot convey a realistic impression of object size, weight, resistance, and inertia, which is often signified through vibrational feedback. We may be able to see and hear everything in the VR world; the haptic feedback kinesthetic impression is sorely lacking. Engineers from Germany’s Research Center for Artificial Intelligence have designed a new VR controller that’s capable of conveying those kinesthetic impressions utilizing a unique fan shape.
Engineers Andre Zenner and Antonio Kruger developed the shape-changing Drag:on VR controller to capitalize on air resistance and weight shifting to generate haptic feedback, giving a sense of object size and movement when handled. The controller self-transforms using a series of actuators to increase or decrease its surface area and mass distribution, allowing it to adapt to virtual interaction with different objects.
The Drag:on controller was designed using a wooden base with a custom 3D printed mount on the end to attach an HTC Vive tracker. On the opposite end of the controller are a pair of MG996R servo motors that actuate a flamenco hand fan connected to 3D printed arms, which are engaged by a pushbutton located in the controller’s grip area. When either or both sides of the fan open and close, the controller’s weight and air resistance is shifted, giving the user perceived haptic feedback of VR object scales.
Zenner and Kruger tested their Drag:on VR controller using several volunteers who were blind to the controller’s design by wearing a VR headset and earphones. The participants were subjected to several VR scenarios where different sized object manipulation was the focal point, and the results show that the controller can successfully convey different object scales. While the tests were proof positive that weight could be expressed through a controller, it’s not known if the engineers will develop a commercial version of the Drag:on.