Imagine yourself sipping coffee at a café wearing augmented reality glasses and summoning a virtual screen and keyboard that immediately appears in front of you. Wearing haptic feedback gloves, as you type, you feel each keystroke on your fingertips, and if you run your fingers along the edge of your keyboard, you feel its edges. You can also move the keyboard around on the table—it feels as if it's real, and the screen hovering at an ergonomically optimal height above the keyboard looks like a normal screen. However, to a passerby, the only thing in front of you is a cup of coffee. Your fingers are moving in thin air and you are looking intently at nothing.
Realizing technology that makes this possible is a goal of Reality Labs Research at Meta (previously Facebook), where ATLAS PhD student Purnendu has been helping develop soft, wearable devices, such as wristbands, rings and gloves, that deliver just the right level of haptic feedback to a wearer in response to contact with an object in virtual or augmented reality. Haptic feedback is created a variety of ways, including through tiny electric motors (actuators) and shape-changing materials.
"This is a great opportunity not only to build upon my earlier work at ATLAS, but also to be around people tasked with inventing the future of human interaction in augmented and virtual reality,” says Purnendu, who will remain at Meta in Redmond, Washington through August.
The work aligns with Purnendu's doctoral research on shaping materials using electrostatic fields and developing human-centered applications. During the internship, Purnendu plans to explore building body-worn solutions—leveraging insights from his past research which emphasized the shape-changing behavior of soft electrohydraulic actuators.
Purnendu holds an integrated master’s degree in physics from Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Roorkee in India and has a background in material science and design. He is advised by Assistant Professor Carson Bruns and Associate Professor Gregory Whiting.