Used a transformative gadget for PC interaction | ENBLE

Used a transformative gadget for PC interaction | ENBLE

Afference’s Phantom Glove: Revolutionizing Tactile Sensations in Virtual Reality


Virtual reality (VR) has come a long way in recent years, but there’s one aspect that has been lacking: the ability to have synchronized tactile sensations with visual experiences. Afference, a team composed of experts in neural engineering, neural interface, and perceptual science, based in Boulder, Colorado, aims to change that with their groundbreaking invention – the Phantom glove. This device has the potential to revolutionize how we interact with virtual worlds and may just change the way we use our PCs forever.

The problem that Afference has set out to solve is simple but crucial. When we interact with objects in the virtual world, our brains anticipate force feedback. However, traditional VR experiences often fail to deliver this feedback, leading to a disconnect between what our sensory organs expect and what we actually experience. This mismatch can result in cybersickness, a condition similar to motion sickness. The Phantom glove aims to bridge this gap by providing our brains with the tactile feedback they crave.

During a visit to Afference’s Boulder office, I had the opportunity to test a prototype of the Phantom glove. Although the glove was not yet functional in its entirety, I was hooked up to a single finger ring, which is a key component of the device. The ring translates various sensations, such as the force of pressing a button or the intensity of a fire, into electrical impulses that interact directly with the wearer’s nerves. Essentially, it tricks your nerves into telling your brain that you’re feeling something.

Calibrating the device involved experiencing the sensations that the ring would generate at different intensities. This was achieved through sound. Afference’s goal was to automatically translate sounds into electrical inputs that corresponded to the sensations. By creating a system for translating sounds into tactile feedback, Afference aims to empower developers to unleash their creativity without requiring specialized knowledge in designing the device.

Distance Grab

At first, the sensations generated by the ring felt somewhat underwhelming. They resembled light electrical currents rather than the immersive experiences I had hoped for. However, when we moved on to augmented reality (AR) demos, combining visual cues with the tactile feedback, the magic started to happen. For instance, placing my hand over a virtual fire and moving it closer or further away generated stronger or weaker sensations in the ring. Although the device cannot simulate actual temperatures, the combination of visual and tactile cues created a convincing illusion.

Further demos truly showcased the potential of the Phantom glove. One demo featured a comically large red button that, when pressed, provided a gradually intensifying sensation of resistance. Despite there being no real resistance, the combination of the visual feedback and the tactile sensation compelled me to naturally slow down and stop pressing the button. Another demo involved a blank keypad. Although I could only use one finger with the device, the sensation of pressing the virtual buttons felt immediate and reminiscent of using a physical keyboard.

As a passionate gamer, I was particularly excited about the telekinetic abilities demo. VR games often incorporate such abilities to enable players to interact with objects without the need for excessive physical movement. With the Phantom glove, I was able to see a small yellow object in the distance, and as I closed my hand, the object was pulled towards me with a satisfying jolt. This experience made me feel like a true Jedi, using the force to manipulate objects. It was a tantalizing glimpse of what the full glove device could offer.

Although Afference has only been fully funded for a year, the Phantom glove is not yet fully developed. The current plan is to make the device available primarily for enterprise use initially. However, as Afference refines its technologies and the market for immersive tech grows, the company intends to redesign the Phantom glove to be accessible to consumers in the form of a bracelet or even a single ring. These iterations may be years away, but for enthusiasts looking to stay on the cutting edge of immersive technology, Afference is a company to watch closely.

The Phantom glove has the potential to revolutionize how we experience virtual reality, bringing us closer to a truly immersive and tactile virtual world. With its ability to synchronize tactile sensations with our visual experiences, the Phantom glove could unlock entirely new possibilities for gaming, education, and even workplace productivity. As Afference continues to innovate and refine their technology, we can expect to see even more exciting developments in the realm of immersive computing.