Meta's haptic glove prototype to help deliver feel and touch to Metaverse users

Facebook's introduction of its Metaverse, a social 3D virtual space where people can share experiences, has focused so far on what people will be able to see inside it.

But a truly immersive experience requires more than just a headset and some hand-held controllers.

Earlier this year the company demonstrated a wrist-based computer input system, calling it a "form of a superpower". Videos released at the time showed how the device could map signals sent by the wearer's brain to their hand, which could replace a keyboard and mouse or touchscreen using electromyography (EMG).

As amazing as using brain signals to control a virtual computer undoubtedly is, it still lacks in being an experience that replicates reality.

The company says that's why it has engaged with Reality Labs Research to help create a haptic glove that will allow people to feel and touch things in the Metaverse.

While the prototype appears bulky and more like Thanos's gauntlet from the Avengers movie than a glove, it's merely the first step in a "tremendously challenging task" the company said.

The goal is to build soft, lightweight gloves that track the wearer's hands and reproduce complex, nuanced sensations including pressure, texture and vibration to create the effect of feeling virtual objects.

While building that is a challenge, delivering customised gloves to fit billions of people is a whole different level of complication, the company said.

But it is trying to do just that, with the materials group "exploring manufacturing techniques that could enable each glove to be custom-fitted for maximum haptic precision and comfort".

Getting that right could mean the wearer will be tricked into feeling an object's weight, size, sharpness and smoothness.

That would be achieved by using tiny motors all over the glove that move in concert to deliver sensation to the wearer's hand. Those actuators are moved by air flow rather than electricity, meaning many more can be fitted on the glove.

Hand-tracking technology is also required to identify precisely where a hand is in a virtual scene and whether it's in contact with a virtual object and how it's interacting with the object.

Unfortunately it's not something we're going to be using in our homes any day soon.

"While we're still in the early stages of this research, the goal is to one day pair the gloves with your VR headset for an immersive experience like playing in a concert or poker game in the Metaverse, and eventually, with your AR glasses," the company said.

"The haptic glove project started as a moonshot, but it is increasingly feasible as the team continues to innovate.

"Moving each of these research areas forward requires time to get the technology right, so while our haptic glove research will remain in the lab for now, we're excited about the progress we’ve made so far and the potential it shows for a virtual world you can touch."