By Evan Ackerman
I was very impressed by Novint’s haptic controller when I tried it out last month. I seriously think haptics (force feedback) is one of the next big things when it comes to input devices. One of the other next big things is going to be more degrees of freedom, i.e. being able to do more than just mouse around in the x – y plane. This maglev joystick, from Butterfly Haptics, combines these two big things into an even bigger thing, since the joystick floats in midair through carefully controlled magnetic fields. The user grips a “flotor” that hovers in an electromagnetic bowl. Optical sensors track the position of the flotor as you move it through six degrees of freedom, including up/down, left/right, forward/backward, and pitch, yaw, and roll. The system can track 2 micron movements (that’s 1/5 of the diameter of a hair) and dish out up 40 newtons (something like 4 pounds) of resistance, which is easily enough to simulate the feel of a solid virtual surface. It’s also able to emulate extremely fine textures and friction coefficients.
Video of some dual-fisted haptic maglev action, after the jump.
This generation of the controller is aimed squarely at universities and research institutions, but commercial development is supposedly in the works, although the electromagnets that form the core of the device cost somewhere in the low five figures, so you’d better start saving.