Human Computer Interaction
Go Touch VR: virtual reality at your fingertips
Direction Lille and Grenoble and to Go Touch VR, where researchers in haptic technology turned entrepreneurs have developed a very simple solution in order to touch and manipulate virtual objects. Eric Vezzoli, co-founder and CEO of the start-up - and former member of the Mint project team at the Inria center in Lille - explains.
Industry, commerce and, of course, leisure activities...Even if the general public has not yet completely fallen under the spell of virtual reality headsets, the little world of VR is still expanding rapidly, with worldwide revenues that should reach $13.9 billion in 2017 and $143.3 billion in 2020, according to the market intelligence institute IDC (International Data Corporation). However, for the time being, even though audio and video devices enable increasingly impressive sound and visual immersions, the other three senses still remain somewhat neglected. Even if it is highly likely that taste and smell will have to wait a few more years before they become the subject of truly operational solutions, touch - for its part - certainly seems to be the ‘new frontier’ of the virtual reality industry. This, at least, is the firm belief of four young doctors of haptic technology (the sense of touch) who, last April, joined forces in order to create Go Touch VR.
We wanted something intuitive, giving the same sensations as you get in reality and without requiring the slightest effort from the user .
“Vincenzo Giamundo, Zlatko Vidrih, Thomas Sednaoui and I met when we were all working within the framework of the European program Prototouch, whose aim was to develop tactile displays equipped with ‘high fidelity’ haptic feedback ”, Eric Vezzoli, CEO of Go Touch VR, explains. “Personally, like Thomas Sednaoui, I come from the Laboratory of Electrical Engineering and Power Electronics (L2EP) in Lille, and I did my thesis within the Mint project team (now called Mint2*) at the Inria Lille - Nord Europe center under Betty Semail and Frédéric Giraud. At the same time I helped to develop a technology that has just been patented, with an exclusive license granted to Go Touch VR. ”
Accessible on every level
What was the starting point for Go Touch VR? “It's simple; we were looking for an idea in the field of haptic technology and we had noticed a lack of applications in the virtual reality sector - a growing market. So we decided to go for it! ” Unveiled last January at the Consumer Electronic Show (CES) in Las Vegas - the annual gathering of high tech trends - the Go Touch VR solution comprises a set of three rings that are placed on the fingertips, an external tracking system supplemented by an inertial unit integrated into the rings and software to make the whole system function. Compatible with all virtual reality headsets, the Go Touch VR solution aims to be as accessible financially as it is functionally, unlike existing gloves that are already on the market and that require a learning period. “We wanted something intuitive, giving the same sensations as you get in reality and without requiring the slightest effort from the user ”, Eric Vezzoli continues.
On paper, the operating principle is simple: instead of emitting vibrations like most of the current haptic feedback devices, the rings exert real pressure on the fingertips, accurately adjusted according to the characteristics - dimensions, surface, movements - of the objects the person wishes to touch. Matched with the images from the VR headset, the sensation linked to the deformation of the fingertips totally confuses the brain and the illusion of virtual contact is very real. With Go Touch VR you can click on buttons, play the xylophone and even manipulate objects in space with an apparently convincing ‘naturalness’. “As is often the case, the desire to provide an easy experience for the user represents a significant challenge for the designer, and we were no exception to the rule: it took us over a year of relentless work in order to develop the prototype for the purpose of the CES presentation, ” Eric Vezzoli admits.
Go Touch VR
Gaming will wait!
Today, the entire focus of this young company of seven people, set up in Lille (with the hardware part established in Grenoble), is on the commercialization of the solution that will officially begin in September. The target? “More than just games, our solution is aimed at the professional virtual reality market. We are part of a BtoB market: our customers will buy our solutions as components that can enable them to create their own tools or their own products. ” A proposal like Go Touch VR has obvious prospects in the field of CAD (computer-aided design) as it will enable the manipulation of objects that do not yet exist in a much more intuitive and realistic way than with a standard controller. Moreover, very promising contacts have already been established with major automobile and aviation industry groups. However, numerous other applications are possible, particularly in the field of professional or medical training, or marketing: thanks to Go Touch, far more immersive showcases can be organized for future customers. “As for the gaming sector, that will be for later on, even if we have already been contacted by some well-known industry actors! ”
And the next step? “We intend to continue with our developments, in particular with an experimental project concerning the tactile rendering of virtual textures and another on the adaptation of the peripheral devices to the virtual environments. With this in mind, we are in the process of finalizing a research contract with the Laboratory of Electrical Engineering and Power Electronics (L2EP) in Lille on the one hand and, on the other hand, with the Mint2 team ”, Eric Vizzoli concludes.
*L'équipe Mint2 est commune avec le CNRS et l'Université de Lille − sciences et technologies (au sein de l'UMR 9189 CNRS-Centrale Lille-Université de Lille − sciences et technologies, CRIStAL et de l'EA 2697 L2EP de l’Université de Lille − sciences et technologies, Arts et Métiers ParisTech, Centrale Lille et HEI).