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UnlimitedHand controller wants to add sense of touch to virtual reality

Japanese developer H2L is making a controller for VR gaming that simulates the feeling of touch, hoping to release it by May 2016.

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H2L

The visual fidelity of virtual reality experiences is rapidly increasing, with designers creating worlds and experiences that inch ever closer to looking real. But Tokyo-based company H2L is trying to create a device that makes VR feel real.

UnlimitedHand is a wearable controller that wraps around the forearm and gives you the sensation of touch within your virtual world. It lets you control your character with your hands, using muscle sensors, while providing feedback from an electronic muscle stimulator (EMS) and vibration motor.

According to Ken Iwasaki and his seven-person team, UnlimitedHand is capable of simulating realistic feelings when your virtual hand touches a virtual object, with the technology programmed to stimulate your real-world hand in accordance with the level of pressure experienced in virtual reality.

Games would have to be programmed specially to incorporate the device, but its makers say they will release a plugin for the widely used Unity game development software.

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H2L

VR technology was for many years a futuristic concept, but it will soon become a commercial reality: Samsung's Gear VR is expected to be released by the year's end, followed by the Facebook-backed Oculus Rift and Sony PlayStation VR in the first half of 2016. It's indicative of the industry's exponential progress that secondary devices like Unlimited Hand are arriving before VR headsets, with the exception of the basic Google Cardboard, are even made available to the public.

H2L has taken to Kickstarter to fund the project and, with 47 days remaining, has already more than doubled its original goal of $20,000 (AU$28,000 or £13,000), having raised over $56,000 (AU$79,000 or £37,000). Once development is complete, H2L expects to ship both to Japan and the US, with Kickstarter funders expected to receive their products by May 2016.

No retail pricing for UnlimitedHand has been announced, though devices will be shipped to those who pledged as low as $188 (around AU$265 or £125) on H2L's Kickstarter.

The designers behind the controller have been researching the patent-pending technology for years at the University of Tokyo, having rolled out more than 200 participant trials, none of which yielded results indicating usage of the device has any physical risk.

While Unlimited Hand is primarily focused on VR videogame interactivity, there are other applications for it that H2L wishes to explore -- such as using it as a physical rehabilitation tool for the medical industry.