Microsoft Research Shows off X-Ring VR Controller, Promising Players the Ability to Feel the Shape of VR Objects

by in General | Oct, 14th 2021

Innovation and New Technology go together like Peanut Butter and Jelly, and VR and PC gaming are some of those combinations that have been exponentially growing over the past couple of years. There’s not much more that can be done when it comes to gaming on a PC without a headset, as the concept of a mouse and keyboard hasn’t been changed since the days of DOOM. However, VR is a new frontier that hopes to keep players guessing as companies try to innovate on their peripherals to make the most immersive experience possible. Valve and Oculus are in a constant head to head race to make a perfect standalone headset. While Oculus is aiming to make their headset completely free of any PC, Valve can’t shake it’s roots, and is rumored to be working on a standalone headset made for both PC, and Standalone VR as a hybrid. Microsoft is aware of this, and while they haven’t jumped into the VR Space yet with their take on the Xbox VR, they’ve been seemingly working on a new controller called the X-Ring that’s going to do what the Index’s Knuckles do but also comes with a massive shift in the way of immersion. Their goal? Letting players feel the objects they hold in their hands. 

The X-Ring Vr Controller

Microsoft Research posted a 3-minute video on YouTube showing off their new X-Ring controller. This controller is a fat cylinder with a touchpad in place of an analog stick, and two buttons, much like other standardized controllers on the market. 

However, where the X-Ring steps away from the other VR Controllers are the rings on the controller themselves.

There are 4 rings on the controllers, each powered by a motor. The controller is supposed to be mounted onto the hand much in the way of the Index, however, the similarities stop there. These four rings are capable of shifting their diameter when an object is picked up, which aims to create the sensation of holding the VR Object in the real world. 

The controller is also capable of feeling the sensitivity of the fingers on the ring, being able to experience up to 15 newtons of pressure before the motors give way. The goal of the controller is to be able to experience the sensation of VR objects in the real world. 

The video describes that the controller will change shape before players pick up the object so that whatever item is picked up is already stored in the controller’s memory, and will immediately feel like they’re holding the object. The pressure sensors are able to make objects break or deform while they’re holding the object as well. 

While this sounds like a novel concept there are a few issues with the controller at the moment, and these issues can make or break the controller if Microsoft decides to turn the X-ring into a consumer product for VR Enthusiasts.

The Problems with the Prototype

While the controller is still a prototype, there’s a handful of issues with the prototype that needs to be ironed out before the controller is ready for the public. The first issue lies within the controller’s design. 

The controller is stated as a 360-degree shape display. While this concept is novel, the VR enthusiasts who would want to use the controller are going to be running into a few major issues with the design of the controller. The first thing is that the controller has a large brick where the palm is. While the brick sits where the wires go into the controller, even shortening this extension for the product would make the shifting shapes while players decide what to pick comes would cause discomfort and immersion breaking. This could be fixed by the controller shifting as soon as the player picks it up, however, this is where the second problem comes in. 

There are 4 rings on the controller, and the video shows the many shapes it can do. While It can hold the shape of certain objects, the contour is the issue with the X-Ring. The rings are too thick to mimic round shapes, instead, the controller makes players feel like they’re holding items made out of voxels.

This could be rectified by including more smaller rings to the X-Ring, however, this could make the controller more expensive, at the cost of being a true shape display. 

Regardless, the controller is still a prototype, and while Microsoft has shown players the prototype controller, there’s still a long way to go before the controller makes it to store shelves. Although, even if it doesn’t, there’s also the fact that Microsoft is invested in VR Tech somewhat, and could possibly get their foot in the door when it comes to technological innovations in the future.


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