Apple is investigating how users can interact with computer systems, with one concept being a glove that could be used for gesture controls and could provide haptic feedback in certain circumstances.
Interactions in virtual spaces have been difficult to solve for some time, as a keyboard and mouse are commonly used computer peripherals, but become less useful when the user is wearing a headset and cannot see them.
Current VR systems do provide an alternative interaction tool in the form of motion controllers, but while a user can “grab” a virtual object, the effect is lost because they are already holding a controller.
Apple proposes the use of a “finger-mounted device with sensors and haptics” as an interaction tool in a recently granted patent. The proposed system uses a series of sensors that attach to the back of the user’s hand and at strategic points along their fingers in order to provide haptic feedback and detect movement.
Rings can be placed around the user’s fingertips, anchored by the fingernails, to determine if a single or multiple fingers are used to interact with an item or perform gestures, and to provide simple haptic feedback in certain situations, such as to simulate touching an item or to confirm input on a virtual button or keyboard. Among the possible onboard sensors are force sensors and accelerometers.
These are transmitted to a control unit located on the back of the hand, which is connected to the computer system. Although the patent does not explicitly state whether the finger units are a distinct device from the main control unit, it is plausible that the finger sections could be separate and communicate wirelessly with other components of the system, or be connected by a deformable material.
It is also possible to use finger sleeves that leave the underside of the finger pad exposed, allowing the user to feel real-world objects normally while still interacting with the virtual version. While there have been attempts to do the same thing with gloves, Apple’s solution appears to eliminate the need to wear the entire garment for the system to function, while still allowing the user to experience the real sensation of touching physical objects.
Using spring tension, the sleeve could simply clamp onto the finger, allowing it to remain attached during movement without immediately falling off. It can also be placed between the knuckles in the middle of the finger, as opposed to the fingertip.
While the concept’s primary application is for VR and AR work, it may also have non-virtual applications, including one reminiscent of the film Minority Report. Allowing the hand to interact with a projected scene or interface, cameras could track the location of the hand by detecting a visible marker or sensor on the device, while onboard sensors could help refine the data by providing more information on the position of the hand and individual fingers.
Apple receives numerous patents from the United States Patent and Trademark Office on a regular basis, but the publication of a filing does not guarantee that Apple will bring the described concepts to market in the near future.
The company has explored the realms of virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR), with its most visible results in the latter category, and has filed a number of patent applications related to both fields, including improvements to eye tracking and 360-degree multi-camera video.
Despite the fact that it has not yet produced its own VR or AR headset, anticipation has been growing for many years. According to the most recent reports, Apple may announce its first headset in early 2023.