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Soft robotics virtual reality gloves

Projects | August 1, 2017 | By:

Members of the pilot study that tested the soft robotics virtual reality gloves described the experience as “amazing” and “mesmerizing.” Photos: UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering.

Wouldn’t it be great to play the piano like a virtuoso? Now there’s a soft robotics glove that gives you the experience—in virtual reality. Engineers at the University of California San Diego have created gloves that take simulated experiences to a more sophisticated level than existing devices. Using soft robotics technology, they developed light, flexible gloves that allow users to feel tactile feedback in virtual reality environments, demonstrating the possibilities in a test that simulates the physical feeling of playing a virtual piano keyboard.

The design includes a soft exoskeleton with a component called a McKibben muscle, which consists of latex chambers covered with braided fibers. The muscles respond like springs to apply force when users move their fingers. The board controls the muscles by inflating
and deflating them.

There are three main components that make the gloves work: a Leap Motion sensor that detects the position and movement of the user’s hands; a custom fluidic control board that controls the gloves’ movements; and soft robotic components in the glove that individually inflate or deflate to mimic the forces the user would encounter in the virtual reality environment. The system interacts with a computer that displays a virtual piano keyboard.

The soft exoskeleton of the gloves was made using a 3-D printer. Silicone rubber was used for the exoskeleton, with Velcro® straps embedded at the joints. To learn more, visit

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