Skin-stretching game controller pitched for next Xbox

An experimental game controller that stretches the skin of your thumbs has been touted to Microsoft and other console makers.

Luke Westaway
Luke Westaway Senior editor
Luke Westaway is a senior editor at CNET and writer/ presenter of Adventures in Tech, a thrilling gadget show produced in our London office. Luke's focus is on keeping you in the loop with a mix of video, features, expert opinion and analysis.
2 min read

An experimental game controller that stretches the skin of your thumbs has been pitched to Microsoft and other console makers, according to the BBC.

We've spent years prodding and poking at games controllers, but now it looks like they're finally fighting back. The painful-sounding peripheral has been crafted by engineers from the University of Utah, and features two red 'tactors' that sit under your thumbs, and feel like the prickly cursor controllers you find in the middle of some laptops.

Those buds will jerk and move around underneath your thumbs, stretching your skin to mimic on-screen action.

It sounds bizarre, but I can kind of imagine it working. One example the researchers came up with is a fishing game, where the buds under your thumb jerk as a fish thrashes about on your line. Weapon recoil is another mooted possibility -- I'm imagining feeling those tactors twitching downward against your thumbs when you fire.

Because they move in different directions, this tech could be used to give gamers a hint -- jerking to the right to point the player towards a clue, for example.

The first game I played to use the vibration tech that's so standard today was Lylat Wars on the N64 (Star Fox 64 if you're outside the land of PAL), which worked with the then-new Rumble Pak -- buzzing happily away whenever I detonated a bomb or got shot down because I was too distracted by the incessant yapping of my teammates.

It was brilliant fun, and added a lot to the game. So I'm curious to see what any new, weird haptic tech can bring to the gaming experience. The Beeb reports that the odd new system has already been shown to Microsoft researchers, with associate professor of mechanical engineering William Provancher reportedly asked to give a more detailed presentation at Microsoft's HQ.

"I'm hoping we can get this into production when the next game consoles come out in a couple of years," Prof Provancher says.

I've embedded a video below that shows off the thumb-poking controller -- check it out and let me know what you think in the comments, or on our Facebook wall.

Image credit: University of Utah