Since the late 1980s, VPL Research Inc. in Redwood City, Calif., has been grabbing headlines with its DataGlove. It's a computerized, $8,000 glove that enables its wearer to figuratively reach inside a computer screen and manipulate things that exist only as digital designs or computer models.
Now, scientists at the National Advanced Robotics Research Center (NARRC) in Salford, England, are taking the so-called virtual reality concept one step further: Their electronic glove lets you "feel" a computer model. Currently, the British glove relays only a sense of shape or movement, simulated by dozens of tiny air bubbles under the glove's lining that move to apply pressure on your hand. But NARRC has been working with researchers at the University of Salford to increase the number of bubbles and improve the glove's controls--so it will convey even the feel of different surface textures. Recently, VPL also joined the team. Look for a prototype of the feeler glove to be unveiled in October.