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Brief Published: 31 Dec 2015

Electromagnets: Future of VR?


A group of researchers from the University of Washington and US virtual reality (VR) tech company Oculus have developed a new way of tracking movement in VR space with electromagnets. The project, called Finexus, uses sensors and magnets attached to a person's fingertips to track motion in three dimensions, and is accurate to within 1.3 millimetres.

While current tracking systems rely on cameras to detect where a specific body part is located, Finexus doesn't require a direct line of sight between the electromagnets and sensors. This means that even if a user bends over and obscures the magnets on their hands from the sensors during a VR game, Finexus would still be able to read their finger movements accurately.

Along with gaming applications, the technology may also be used for tasks that require delicate finger motions, such as playing the piano or painting in VR. The next step is to refine the hardware and miniaturise it, according to Keyu Chen, who started the project while interning at Oculus, with the tech eventually being built into a glove and wristband or smartwatch.

The research hints at the possibility of far more detailed interactions than those currently available to consumers. Further information will be presented in a paper at the ACM CHI 2016 conference on computer-human interaction in California in May 2016.

For more on innovations shaping the future of virtual and augmented tech, see The Technology Expo 2015 and Digital Worlds Update: The Consumer of 2030.