Up until now, handheld controllers have been the primary tools VR and AR headset wearers have used for interactions with artificial worlds, but Facebook is already planning for a hands-free future — or at least one where you don’t need to hold controllers to feel feedback from the digital environment. To that end, Facebook Reality Labs researchers recently revealed prototype Tasbi wristbands that send various types of haptic feedback through the wearer’s hands and wrists.

Tasbi was unveiled at the World Haptics Conference 2019 (via UploadVR) as a set of small boxes linked by a central band. One large box is centered to look like an oversized smartwatch, housing a haptic actuator, while each of the smaller boxes has its own linear actuator capable of precisely sending vibrations and dynamically adjusting tension from different places on the wrist.

Collectively, the Tasbi actuators can provide “vibration cues” and “squeeze cues” based on digitally generated content the wearer interacts with, vibrating from side to side to mark contacts, collisions, and interfacing with textures, or front to back to suggest the springiness of buttons and weights. Tasbi can also enable users to interact with “visual illusions” such as holograms, providing some sense of differential feedback for obviously unreal UIs or objects.

What’s missing from Tasbi is any actual control hardware. Conceptually, the wristbands would be paired with a VR/AR device’s own computer vision system for detecting hand and finger motions, so that the haptics could be enjoyed without the need to hold a controller. As UploadVR points out, Facebook has also explored the prospect of using a machine learning/AI wristband to interpret electrical signals as changing finger positions, which paired with Tasbi might eliminate the need for traditional controllers altogether.

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Microsoft has prototyped TORC, a sophisticated haptic system for AR and VR that relies upon a hand-held controller. Other companies have developed haptic gloves and armbands with very different approaches, all in the pursuit of bringing greater tactility to simulated environments and objects.

Like many of Facebook’s VR/AR research projects, Tasbi doesn’t have an actual release date, pricetag, or any guarantee of making it into a shipping product, but the fact that the company has gone this far in R&D suggests that it has serious potential. A full research paper detailing the project is expected to be published in the near future.