The Cost of Haptics: Measuring Encumbrance in Gloves for Mixed Reality

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Hallam, James David
Budd, James G.
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Smart gloves are a category of peripherals that promise to transform how people use their hands in computing systems. These gloves are intended to support the use of hand interactions that closely mimic the way hands are used in the real world – allowing for natural object interactions and, through the use of haptic systems extend the sense of touch into the virtual world. The recent availability of affordable consumer-grade Virtual Reality (VR) systems has accelerated the pursuit of smart glove peripherals that incorporate numerous sensors and actuators that enable these interactions. While these gloves present a wide array of new enriching interactions to users, they also bear costs, in the form of various degrees of encumbrance. Encumbrance is felt by the user as a temporary disability that limits their hand function and access to the world around them. This limits the user’s experience in VR, where the focus is on virtual object interaction, and this will be more challenging with the adoption of Mixed Reality (MR), which requires interaction with both virtual and physical objects. Smart gloves for VR are highly complex, as they require the careful integration of numerous computing/sensing systems, soft-goods product development, interaction design, soft-robotics, and haptics. Making gloves for MR will require even more careful design and testing to ensure that the user has unencumbered access to any object or interface they encounter in both virtual and physical space. This research examines the costs and trade-offs that users might encounter while using haptic gloves in Mixed Reality. These encumbrances were measured following a mixed-methods, task performance approach, with the goal of recommending design options for future design development. The methods used were drawn from ergonomic and occupational therapy approaches to measuring hand function, in order to identify clear measures of encumbrance imposed by specific design details of various gloves. This research developed a comprehensive testing protocol which identified 15 key “Costs of Haptics” which encumber the wearer of VR gloves, in exchange for other benefits. These costs are discussed in detail along with the underlying evidence that supports them and will provide a valuable set of design recommendations that should allow design teams to optimize design decisions in the development of the next generation of MR gloves.
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