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Touching Virtual Reality: a Review of Haptic Gloves


Anyone who has ever experienced a Virtual Reality (VR) environment has dreamed of being able to touch the virtual objects and manipulate them with his or her bare hands. Sadly, that requires much more than just a fast graphic board and an immersive visual display. For multi-finger interaction, this requires some kind of wearable force-feedback device, a so-called ‘haptic glove’. The recent growth of the Virtual Reality market resulted in an intensification of development efforts in this technology. These days many teams and start-ups around the world are announcing imminent releases of commercial haptic gloves. Indeed, in the last year there has been one new product announcement almost every month. It is clear that not all new ideas will actually make it to the market, and that not all haptic gloves are addressing the same range of applications. In this paper, the main technical constraints which are faced when designing a haptic glove are addressed with a special focus of the actuation technology. Then, a review of existing devices, past and present projects, comparing their characteristics and performance is provided. Lastly, insights on future developments are sketched.
Touching Virtual Reality: a Review of Haptic Gloves
Jérôme Perret1*, Emmanuel Vander Poorten2
1 Haption GmbH, Aachen, Germany
2 Department of Mechanical Engineering, KU Leuven, Belgium
Anyone who has ever experienced a Virtual Reality (VR) environment has dreamed of being able
to touch the virtual objects and manipulate them with his or her bare hands. Sadly, that requires
much more than just a fast graphic board and an immersive visual display. For multi-finger
interaction, this requires some kind of wearable force-feedback device, a so-called haptic glove.
The recent growth of the Virtual Reality market resulted in an intensification of development efforts
in this technology. These days many teams and start-ups around the world are announcing
imminent releases of commercial haptic gloves. Indeed, in the last year there has been one new
product announcement almost every month. It is clear that not all new ideas will actually make it
to the market, and that not all haptic gloves are addressing the same range of applications. In this
paper, the main technical constraints which are faced when designing a haptic glove are
addressed with a special focus of the actuation technology. Then, a review of existing devices,
past and present projects, comparing their characteristics and performance is provided. Lastly,
insights on future developments are sketched.
Keywords: Haptic feedback, Virtual Reality, Haptic gloves, Manual interaction
1. Introduction
Of all VR interaction devices, the haptic
glove is at the same time the most
desperately asked for and the most complex
to develop. Indeed, each human being not
only has a unique hand size and shape, but
also a pair of hands which are not identical
and not even symmetric. In addition, the
hand is one of the most sensible parts of the
body. It is able to perceive fine details at very
large frequencies, but may also develop and
perceive large forces [1]. As a consequence,
in order to be effective a haptic glove has to
be adaptable to its user. It needs to be
lightweight and compact, yet deliver large
amounts of power with a very low latency.
For many years, the only mature wearable
force-feedback devices for the hand have
been the CyberGrasp of Immersion Corp
(now CyberGlove Systems) [2,3] and the
Master II of Rutgers University [4]. Neither of
them enjoyed a great commercial success.
There have been many research projects
proposing the use of classical DC motors,
artificial muscles, shape memory alloys or
dielectric elastomers. An exhaustive review
of the developments in academia has been
published recently by Pacchierotti et al. in
2017 [5]. The purpose of this paper is to
focus on commercial devices and to describe
the current status of these systems.
2. User requirements and constraints
The sense of touch is extremely complex,
and cannot be addressed by a unique
actuation principle. For this reason it is
common to distinguish between “tactile” and
“kinesthetic” touch. Tactile feedback devices
provide input to the user’s skin. They try to
recreate the sensation of a shape, a texture
or in some situations even of thermal
properties of a virtual object. Kinesthetic
feedback devices apply forces to the
skeleton of the user. They create an
impression of movement and/or resistance
through the muscles. In real life, both
feedback types are present when touching
an object. In order to experience tactile
feedback only, one may try to touch an object
placed on a slippery surface, so that it offers
no resistance. Similarly, one could isolate
kinesthetic perception by touching an object
while wearing very thick gloves effectively
filtering out the tactile component.
The main user requirements for a haptic
glove are as follows: the glove should
provide both tactile and kinesthetic feedback,
it should be wearable (i.e. not heavy) and
should not impede the natural movement of
the fingers. Because the need to produce in
large numbers to reach an acceptable
market price, gloves either need to fit an
arbitrary size and form of the hand or should
be easily adaptable. Latter constraint is
usually addressed by offering a selection of
sizes within a certain working range. This
approach is to some extent similar when
purchasing rubber gloves for the household.
However, it is not as simple as that as it
becomes tedious when actuators need to be
placed very precisely relative to the user’s
3. Classification of haptic gloves
To simplify the analysis, the following
classification of haptic gloves is adhered to in
this work:
1. traditional gloves,
2. thimbles and
3. exoskeletons.
Although the different classes all share the
same objectives and constraints, the three
categories follow very different technical
approaches to meet with the said objectives
and constraints. In the following the three
categories are explained and examples of
representative commercial products are
analyzed in greater detail.
Under the name “traditional glove” a
garment made of some sort of flexible fabric,
which fits the shape of the hand and lets the
fingers move individually, is understood. The
sensors to measure the flexion of the fingers
and the actuators to apply a feedback on the
skin or skeleton are either sewn within the
fabric or fixed on the outside of these gloves.
The designers of this type of haptic glove
face several challenges. First, the sensors
and actuators must be small enough to fit
inside the fabric or to allow placement very
close to the fingers. Second, the whole
equipment (including wiring) needs to be
very flexible, otherwise the user will feel
restricted in his/her movement. Third and
last, the glove must be able to sustain large
deformations, including stretching that
appears when fitting in and out. The glove
should undergo these deformations
repeatedly without damage to its structure or
affecting its functionality.
3.1. Traditional Gloves
The Spanish company Neurodigital
Technologies has announced the
development of such a haptic glove, in two
versions, the Gloveone™ and the
AvatarVR™[6]. Both products provide
interaction with the 5 fingers, with 10
vibrotactile actuators placed as follows: one
is located under each fingertip, three under
the palm, and two on the back of the hand.
The type of actuator used is unclear. The
hand pose is measured by an IMU in both
products, the Gloveone uses flex sensors to
measure the fingers position whereas the
AvatarVR uses IMUs for each finger. As of
March 2018, it is possible to order the
products on the company website, but
according to discussions on the forums,
there are some problems with delivery.
The company Senso, based in the USA,
has been working since 2015 on the “Senso
Glove™” [7,8]. It provides interaction with 5
fingers, with one vibration motor under the
last phalange of each finger. The
measurement of finger and hand movements
is based on inertial sensors. This makes the
device cheap and easy to calibrate and
ensures a high refresh rate, but at the cost of
precision. Integrated pressure sensors
measure the grip pressure. The Senso Glove
comes in S, M, ML, L and XL size for men
and S, M, L for women. As of March 2018,
the second version of the product is available
for software developers. The customer
version is said to be 6 months late with
respect to the company’s website
Very recently, the German start-up company
Cynteract has started working on a new
glove concept for rehabilitation [9]. They are
using a standard glove made of cloth, to
which they add wires attached to
servomotors, capable of exerting a force
along the whole finger, in either opening or
closing direction. The actuators and
electronics are mounted on the forearm. The
electronics of the glove measure not only the
bending of the fingers but also the orientation
in space, so that it is usable without an
additional tracking system. The first
prototypes are undergoing early clinical
The Maestro glove from ContactCi
(Cincinatti, US) [10] follows a similar
principle. Five exotendons are connected to
the same amount of servomotors assembled
in a package that is mounted on the
operator’s forearm. The exotendons are
routed along the upper body of the hand
towards the different fingers. Embedded in a
traditional glove they restrict the finger
motions when fingers touch an object in the
virtual reality environment. Five fingertip
pads are responsible for vibration cues. 5
Flex sensors and the exotendon positions
are being measured in the Maestro. Contact
Ci is accepting applications for early beta
testing, but does not give an indication when
the Maestro will be released to the broader
3.2 Thimbles
By “thimble” a configuration with an
actuator attached to a fingertip is meant. If it
is possible to combine several thimbles in
order to provide feedback on several fingers
at the same time. In such way a function
similar to that of a haptic glove can emerge.
The challenge in designing thimbles lies in
the need to integrate sensors, actuators, a
power source and a wireless transmission
within a very light and compact device. In
addition, the thimble needs to fit on fingers of
different sizes without squeezing them
painfully while avoiding the risk for slipping.
The device VRtouch™ of the French
company GoTouchVR is a simple thimble
with only one electromagnetic actuator,
which applies pressure to the fingertip [11].
By means of a magnetic clip the thimble can
be easily attached to the finger. Multi-finger
touch is possible by mounting multiple
devices on different fingers (3 per hand
maximum). As with all thimble solutions
collisions between modules prevent gestures
where fingers are too near. The VRtouch
supports Leap Motion and some other third
party tracking systems to track the hand and
finger. The product is available since
November 2017 for software developers.
The company Tactai, based in the USA,
also proposes a thimble called “Tactai
Touch™” [12]. Based on 15 years of
academic research, the device is able to
render sensations of pressure as well as
texture and contact [5]. A single thimble is
said to weigh approximately 29 grams [5].
Again, software developers can purchase a
kit, but Tactai has not yet announced a final
release date for the consumer market.
3.3 Exoskeletons
An exoskeleton is an articulated structure
which the user wears over his/her hand, and
which transmits forces to the fingers.
Because of the need to adapt to a variety of
hand sizes and shapes, designers do not
usually adopt the same kinematics as the
fingers because it would require for each
user a very precise adjustment of the
segment lengths. Instead, the structure runs
in parallel to the fingers on the outside of the
hand. A number of intermediate linkages
attach the exoskeleton then to the different
phalanges of the hand.
The CyberGrasp™ is the most famous and
the forerunner of all commercial
exoskeletons [2,3]. The role of the very
complex mechanical structure is to convey
the force of a pulling cable to the fingertip
without constraining the other joints. The
movement of the fingers is not measured by
the exoskeleton, but by a dataglove
(CyberGlove) worn under it by the user. The
maximum force (12 N) is large enough to
stop completely the movement of a finger.
However, the effect of having one’s fingertips
pulled backwards while nothing is happening
on the phalanges and palm is very strange
and not so convincing. Nevertheless, the
company has been selling the device
successfully for more than 20 years.
Because of the high price and the very small
number of available applications, the sales
number have been low (about 2-5 pieces per
year). Still, it is a serious achievement for a
device that has been so much ahead of its
In the new generation of exoskeletons, the
Dexmo™ by Dexta Robotics (China) has
been highly anticipated, with its impressive
design resembling a large claw [13]. The first
prototypes used mechanical brakes to
simulate the resistance of virtual objects [14],
but the final version integrates servomotors
for a variable force-feedback. The
exoskeleton measures finger flexion and
abduction, plus one rotation for the thumb.
The force-feedback is limited to one degree-
of-freedom per finger, with a maximum force
of 0.3 Nm. The start-up Dexta Robotics has
had a hectic course, after cancelling a first
crowd-funding campaign. As of March 2018,
only development kits are available, and
highly priced (Table 1).
The US-based company HaptX Inc. has a
very different and challenging approach. The
design of the HaptX Glove™ resembles an
armored glove, and the actuation principle is
pneumatic [15]. The complete device
features a smart silicon-based textile and
integrated air channels that delivers high-
resolution, high-displacement tactile
feedback combined with a biomimetic
exoskeleton for resistive force feedback.
Magnetic sensors capture the finger
movements with sub-millimeter motion
tracking accuracy. The HaptX Glove includes
more than 100 tactile actuators and delivers
up to 22 N of force feedback. HaptX Gloves
are focused on VR training and simulation
applications for industrial users.
Development Kit versions of the gloves will
ship to select enterprise customers later this
The VRgluv™ is another exoskeleton
coming from the USA. Also this glove looks
like an armored glove [16]. The company
announces 20N of force-feedback, high-
frequency movement in 12 degrees-of-
freedom and pressure measurement.
Although the product developers are not
releasing any technical details, apparently
the exoskeleton is actuated by DC motors
pulling cables. After a successful
crowdfunding campaign closed in May 2017,
the VRgluv team have not yet announced
when production will be started.
The Dutch company Sense Glove is also
busy developing an exoskeleton [17]. The
first version used mechanical brakes and
was entirely 3D-printed. This enabled the
company to enter the market very quickly.
The device applies unidirectional force-
feedback on the finger flexion (in the
direction of grasping), using one servomotor
per finger pulling on a string, and can also
apply vibrations. The maximum force is 7 N.
A batch of development kits have been
delivered in 2017, and the first small series
production is announced for Summer 2018.
Finally, the French company Haption has
demonstrated a prototype called the HGlove
at several academic conferences and trade
exhibitions (fig. 1) [18, 19]. Contrary to the
other products, it provides interaction only for
the thumb, index and middle finger. The
device is attached to the hand via two straps
with hook and loop fasteners around the
palm and thumb. Two tiny DC motors apply
a force on the fingertip through a two-bar
mechanism with a reduction based on one
gear and one small capstan. Consequently,
the interaction works not only on the
flexion/extension, but also on the rotation
around the first phalange. The abduction is
measured but no force-feedback is available
on that movement. The maximum peak force
is 12 N, and the maximum sustainable force
is 5 N. It is possible to attach the HGlove to a
force-feedback device such as the Virtuose
6D, which applies a force to the hand via a
rigid fixation on the back plate of the
exoskeleton. The HGlove is available for sale
as single piece manufacturing. Haption does
not plan production in series at this date.
Fig. 1: prototype of the HGlove
Like most exoskeletons, one major difficulty
in the implementation of the HGlove in Virtual
Reality comes from the mechanical structure:
because of the need to adapt to any hand
size and shape, it needs a much larger
workspace than the actual fingers of any
particular person. Not only has Haption
designed the structure with only two joints.
where the human finger has three. The offset
between the joints and the phalanges are
large so that there is no correspondence
between the joint angles measured by the
motor encoders and the finger pose. One
solution could be to have the user wear a
dataglove, thus measuring the finger pose
directly. The solution proposed by Haption is
to describe a model of the hand and use
inverted kinematics in order to calculate the
finger pose. By measuring a few standard
hand poses at the start, the system calibrates
the model to the actual size and form of the
user’s hand within a few seconds.
4. Conclusion
As shown in Table 1, the actuation principles
chosen by the developers of haptic gloves for
commercial products tend to narrow down to
a very limited number of solutions. Except for
HaptX who relies on a smart textile with
embedded air channels, which as a
consequence implies that it cannot be made
wireless, all other commercial systems are
using traditional electromagnetic motors.
This stands in contrast to the plethora of
drive mechanisms that have been and are
being explored by research teams worldwide
[5]. Nevertheless, it appears that even with
such proven technology, the designers
experience considerable challenges to
deliver the promised products in due time.
Table 1 - Overview of commercial haptic gloves
Nr fingers
Weight (g)
Senso Glove
599 $1,2
Tactai Touch
50000 $3
12000 $1
579 $
Sense Glove
999 1,2
DC motor
30000 3
1 Development Kit (DK)
2 Two pieces (left and right)
3 Single piece manufacturing
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The Rutgers Master II-ND glove is a follow up on the earlier Rutgers Master II haptic interface. The redesigned glove has all the sensing placed on palm support, avoiding routing wires to the fingertips. It uses custom pneumatic actuators arranged in a direct-drive configuration between the palm and the thumb, index middle and ring fingers. The supporting glove used in the RMII design is eliminated, thus the RMII-ND can better accommodate varying hand sizes. The glove is connected to a haptic control interface that reads its sensors and servos its actuators. The interface pneumatic pulse-width modulated servo-valves have higher bandwidth than those used in the earlier RMII, resulting in better force control. A comparison with the CyberGrasp commercial haptic glove is provided
The force applied by the surgeon, during a flexion test, has a strong influence on the outcome of the test. The objective of this study was to verify if a commercially available pressure-sensitive glove could be used to standardize the force applied in the equine distal forelimb flexion test. Three experienced veterinary surgeons and three final-year students performed bilateral distal forelimb flexion tests on cadaver limbs and on live horses with a pressure-sensitive glove. All participants were asked to apply a constant force for 60 seconds using the indicator on the glove display while a camera recorded the value on the glove display. The videos were reviewed and the percentage of time for which the correct force was applied was measured. No significant differences were found between the percentages of time of application of the standard force between experienced and nonexperienced operators (P = .802). No statistical difference was found between experienced and inexperienced operator either in live horses (P = .591) or in the cadaver model (P = .797). In conclusion, the pressure-sensitive glove could become an essential and affordable tool for the equine practitioner, facilitating standardization of the test.
Conference Paper
We present Dexmo: an inexpensive and lightweight mechanical exoskeleton system for motion capturing and force feedback in virtual reality applications. Dexmo combines multiple types of sensors, actuation units and link rod structures to provide users with a pleasant virtual reality experience. The device tracks the user’s motion and uniquely provides passive force feedback. In combination with a 3D graphics rendered environment, Dexmo provides the user with a realistic sensation of interaction when a user is for example grasping an object. An initial evaluation with 20 participants demonstrate that the device is working reliably and that the addition of force feedback resulted in a significant reduction in error rate. Informal comments by the participants were overwhelmingly positive.
The physiology and psychophysics of touch
  • S Lederman
  • R Rowse
S. Lederman and R. Rowse. "The physiology and psychophysics of touch. In Proceedings of the NATO Advanced Research Workshop on Sensors and Sensory Systems for Advanced Robots, volume F43, pages 71-91, 1988.