From UCSD Jacobs: “A glove powered by soft robotics to interact with virtual reality environments”

UC San Diego bloc

UC San Diego

Jacobs School of Engineering

May 30, 2017
Ioana Patringenaru
858-822-0899
ipatrin@ucsd.edu

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A glove powered by soft robotics is allowing these Ph.D. students to play piano in VR.

Engineers at UC San Diego are using soft robotics technology to make light, flexible gloves that allow users to feel tactile feedback when they interact with virtual reality environments. The researchers used the gloves to realistically simulate the tactile feeling of playing a virtual piano keyboard.

Engineers recently presented their research, which is still at the prototype stage, at the Electronic Imaging, Engineering Reality for Virtual Reality conference in Burlingame, Calif.

Currently, VR user interfaces consist of remote-like devices that vibrate when a user touches a virtual surface or object. “They’re not realistic,” said Jurgen Schulze, a researcher at the Qualcomm Institute at UC San Diego and one of the paper’s senior authors. “You can’t touch anything, or feel resistance when you’re pushing a button. By contrast, we are trying to make the user feel like they’re in the actual environment from a tactile point of view.”

Other research teams and industry have worked on gloves as VR interfaces. But these are bulky and made from heavy materials, such as metal. The glove the engineers developed has a soft exoskeleton equipped with soft robotic muscles that make it much lighter and easier to use.

“This is a first prototype but it is surprisingly effective,” said Michael Tolley, a mechanical engineering professor at the Jacobs School of Engineering at UC San Diego and also a senior author.

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One of the glove’s key components are soft robotic muscles.

One key element in the gloves’ design is a type of soft robotic component called a McKibben muscle, essentially latex chambers covered with braided fibers. The muscles respond like springs to apply force when the user moves their fingers. The board controls the muscles by inflating and deflating them.The system involves three main components: a Leap Motion sensor that detects the position and movement of the user’s hands; a custom fluidic control board that controls the gloves’ movements; and soft robotic components in the glove that individually inflate or deflate to mimic the forces that the user would encounter in the VR environment. The system interacts with a computer that displays a virtual piano keyboard with a river and trees in the background.

Researchers 3D-printed a mold to make the gloves’ soft exoskeleton. This will make the devices easier to manufacture and suitable for mass production, they said. Researchers used silicone rubber for the exoskeleton, with Velcro straps embedded at the joints.

Engineers conducted an informal pilot study of 15 users, including two VR interface experts. All tried the demo which allowed them to play the piano in VR. They all agreed that the gloves increased the immersive experience. They described it as “mesmerizing” and “amazing.”

The engineers are working on making the glove cheaper, less bulky and more portable. They also would like to bypass the Leap Motion device altogether to make system more compact.

“Our final goal is to create a device that provides a richer experience in VR,” Tolley said. “But you could imagine it being used for surgery and video games, among other applications.”

Tolley is a faculty member in the Contextual Robotics Institute at UC San Diego. Schulze is an adjust professor in computer science, where he teaches courses on VR.

See the full article here .

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About the Jacobs School
Innovation Happens Here

The UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering is a premier research school set apart by our entrepreneurial culture and integrative engineering approach.

The Jacobs School’s Mission:

Educate Tomorrow’s Technology Leaders
Conduct Leading Edge Research and Drive Innovation
Transfer Discoveries for the Benefit of Society

The Jacobs School’s Values:

Engineering for the global good
Exponential impact through entrepreneurism
Collaboration to enrich relevance
Our education models focus on deep and broad engineering fundamentals, enhanced by real-world design and research, often in partnership with industry. Through our Team Internship Program and GlobalTeams in Engineering Service program, for example, we encourage students to develop their communications and leadership skills while working in the kind of multi-disciplinary team environment experienced by real-world engineers.

We are home to exciting research centers, such as the San Diego Supercomputer Center, a national resource for data-intensive computing; our Powell Structural Research Laboratories, the largest and most active in the world for full-scale structural testing; and the Qualcomm Institute, which is the UC San Diego division of the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology (Calit2), which is forging new ground in multi-disciplinary applications for information technology.

Located at the hub of San Diego’s thriving information technology, biotechnology, clean technology, and nanotechnology sectors, the Jacobs School proactively seeks corporate partners to collaborate with us in research, education and innovation.

The University of California, San Diego (also referred to as UC San Diego or UCSD), is a public research university located in the La Jolla area of San Diego, California, in the United States.[12] The university occupies 2,141 acres (866 ha) near the coast of the Pacific Ocean with the main campus resting on approximately 1,152 acres (466 ha).[13] Established in 1960 near the pre-existing Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego is the seventh oldest of the 10 University of California campuses and offers over 200 undergraduate and graduate degree programs, enrolling about 22,700 undergraduate and 6,300 graduate students. UC San Diego is one of America’s Public Ivy universities, which recognizes top public research universities in the United States. UC San Diego was ranked 8th among public universities and 37th among all universities in the United States, and rated the 18th Top World University by U.S. News & World Report ‘s 2015 rankings.

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