A new research project could be the key to how we eventually explore worlds in virtual reality. It involves using a set of magnets and sensors that track the motion of the user's fingers in 3D.
The new system is called Finexus, and users basically place small electromagnets on each of their fingers, which are then tracked by magnetic sensors. The system is quite accurate — within 1.3 millimeters.
University of Washington graduate Keyu Chen is the brains behind the new research, and he started working on it while he was an intern at Oculus Research last summer. According to him, he sees Finexus being used for gaming, but also for tasks that would require different finger motions, like playing a virtual piano or painting in virtual reality.
The early days of virtual reality are likely to be a little lacking when it comes to things like finger tracking. The first headset by Oculus, the Oculus Rift, won't track the user's hands or anything like that, with users instead using a wireless Xbox controller. Oculus will also sell controllers called Oculus Touch, designed to give the user slightly finer controls, however, it still won't be as delicate as what Chen has created.
Unlike tracking systems that rely on cameras, Finexus doesn't require there to be a direct line of sight between the sensor and the electromagnets. What that means is that if you turn around while playing a virtual reality game, Finexus should still be able to figure out where your fingers are.
Eventually, Chen sees the system being built into something like a glove and a smartwatch, with the gloves holding the electromagnets and the smartwatch holding the sensors. Currently, the distance between the two can't be more than 12 centimeters, or around 4.7 inches, but Chen thinks he could expand that to 25 centimeters, or almost 10 inches.
Eventually, he hopes to miniaturize the technology, but after that, he's not quite sure what will happen. Perhaps Oculus might be interested?
Check out the video below to see a demo of Finexus.