Remember the Nintendo Power Glove? Remember how stupid it looked? Fast forward to 2014 and the thing on my hand right now might actually look worse. But this is just a prototype of the Glove1, a wearable designed to produce haptic feedback, and the technology inside is far more exciting than Nintendo's ill-fated attempt at a wearable.
Right now the Glove1 is exactly that - one white glove - but on the back is a glowing chip of a brain that makes me look like Michael Jackson's cyborg twin, and it's letting me touch things that don't exist. The aim is to use this alongside virtual reality in order to create a much more natural input.
Haptic feedback certainly isn't a new technology but it has seen some significant improvements in recent years. Now, fitted inside this glove via small touch sensors in each finger, I'm able to poke, prod, press and squeeze objects on the screen in front of me. Holding my arm out, the Leap Motion sensor on the table detects my position and a virtual arm mirrors my actions on the screen - it's pleasingly accurate as the slowly curling fist on the screen apes my own.
My virtual limb is floating in a room filled with random objects. Touching the desk surface, it certainly feels like I can feel it as the vibrations work their magic, but it's hardly impressive yet. I feel something's there but I wouldn't be able to tell you what it was if you'd blindfolded me beforehand.
However, when I run my finger to the square of bamboo in the middle, the surface is noticeably different to the desk, each bump fed back as a tiny vibration that convinces the brain I'm now touching something that's much bumpier.
Just above the bamboo is a purple flower in a pot. Luis Castillo, CEO of Neurodigital Technologies, tells me to start pulling at its petals. I pinch at one and begin to pull it away from the stigma, the more I pull the more resistance I feel. This is where things start to get a bit more impressive. It's not that I can feel the rubbery consistency of the flower, but as I slowly pinch each petal and pull at it the increased intensity of the vibration really makes it seem like there's a physicality.
For the next trick I'm told to press a big red button which causes a baseball to fall from the sky. Catching it in my hand makes it feel like I'm holding an object of that very shape, and though there's no added weight, the vibrations trick me into believing I'm holding something of an identical mass.
But the best bit comes when I press the button again, only this time for a small beach ball to fall instead. Holding it in my hand, it feels lighter, just like it was indeed filled with air as I tenderly grope the ghost ball.
One of the final things I do is pull a lever that's placed at the far right of the desk. As I do I feel each notch resist my pull and then click, triggering another "this is actually pretty cool" moment in my brain. The lack of resistance is once again noted, but that will probably demand a change in the basic laws of physics rather than technology. Still, it feels like that lever is gripped in my right hand.
Pre-orders for the Glove1 are set to go live in January 2015, and once orders have hit 700, production and shipping will begin. For now it works with Leap Motion and Xbox Kinect, but the second dev kit (and the final product) will use onboard motion sensors using the in place of cameras. Combine this with an Oculus Rift and we may have already solved virtual reality's input problem.
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