Perfecting virtual touch

Perfecting virtual touch

Feature articles |
By eeNews Europe

One of the latest projects the company is pursuing for its diversification is the design of a glove-based touch simulation technology, dubbed RealSim. 

With RealSim, the company aims to provide the most realistic sensation of touch available in the market for virtual reality applications, ranging from gaming to training emergency services and hospital doctors to rehab or for military simulation exercises.

Based in Petersfield (Hampshire, UK) MIAT is not a huge company, having only about 38 employees. But as well as designing, manufacturing and commercializing its own medical devices, MIAT also helps others turn their ideas into products, with consultancy and a complete idea to manufacture service, in effect acting as an incubator. Although the company was originally founded in 1987 to market radio frequency (RF) lesion generators for back pain relief, it has taken a promising new turn.

Interviewed by eeNews Europe, MIAT’s CEO Nigel Clarke gave us an overview of the company’s novel mode of operation.

“About six years ago, we decided to invest up to 20% of our turnover in R&D for diversification and to help other inventors bring innovative products to market. Actually last year, we invested 25% of our turnover in R&D and have a range of products we are developing, including a screening test for liver cancer, an anti-snoring device based on electrical pulses, a hybrid advanced awareness device to track people’s health metrics, and an inflatable baby incubator for disaster and emergency situations” told us Clarke.

“In 2011, we took this change of direction with the aim to bring one new product to market per year. Up to 2016, about 98% of our turnover came from historical products. In 2016, we brought our first new products to market which represent 20% of our turnover. This year we are taking two new products into manufacture and next year, three more products. We’ll get about 60% or our revenues from manufacture” the CEO explained.

“When being approached by inventors or startups, we try not to take equity, but we look into each case. Sometimes we secure an exclusive license agreement to sell the product or we manufacture the device for a number of years or we get royalties. In some cases, we can form a joint venture”.

“The idea for RealSim came from two researchers from the University of Southampton working to improve stroke survivors’ rehabilitation, to stimulate their sense of touch. But in order to be able to bring RealSim to this niche market, we need the traction of larger markets such as virtual reality and augmented reality” continued Clarke.

“We’ve developed two proof-of-concept prototypes over the last year, thoroughly tested by stroke alive and non-impaired patients with a combination of stimulation trials”.

Early proof-of-concept prototype of the ReaSim haptic glove.

Exploded view of a finger-tip RealSim module.

The prototypes pack a number of actuators at each fingertip to provide pressure, vibration, hot and cold stimuli. It uses a small pump and a diaphragm behind a small air reservoir for the pressure (soft or hard touch), a Peltier module for temperature control, and a linear resonant actuator (LRA) to impart vibration patterns. A specially designed controller allows the actuators to deliver variable frequencies, patterns and intensities of all these stimuli.

The number of possible stimuli patterns is huge, which according to Clarke enables RealSim to mimic the sense of touch for virtually any object, surface, substance or environment.

“I have not seen any glove with temperature or pressure together with vibration. The original prototypes were built with off-the-shelf components and were reasonably bulky, but the control box is getting smaller and the next big stage of product development will be integration with AR/VR scenarios and with hand tracking”, told us the CEO.

Schematic of the different actuators
controlled for precise touch stimuli.

MIAT is currently seeking some investors to further the development of RealSim, looking for a total investment of £1,335,000 over the next 18 months. It is hoping to bring its first RealSim software development kit (SDK) early 2018 to allow AR/VR content developers to modify existing simulations or create new ones. In its tentative roadmap, MIAT sees a first version of RealSim hardware reaching market early 2019.

To celebrate its 30th anniversary and as a way to identify interesting product ideas, the company just launched the Morgan Innovation & Technology Prize, offering £30,000 of R&D services to the winner and a runners-up prize of £10,000 of R&D services.

Morgan Innovation & Technology –

Related articles:

close encounter of the haptic type

feeling virtual objects at your fingertips

augmented reality gets physical with haptics

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