Some months ago I interviewed Niels Bogerd from SenseGlove about the “affordable” (from an enterprise point of view) force-feedback gloves they were producing. I was very intrigued by his words, and I would have loved to try the device. The great news is that SenseGlove has been so kind as to send me a review unit some days ago, and of course I’ve made many extensive tests so that to write a detailed review for you!
DISCLAIMER: Before starting, I would like to acknowledge you that since some weeks Niels Bogerd has become a Patron of this blog. This has not influenced at all this review, that as you will see is very objective, but I thought it was honest from my side to tell you this fact.
SenseGlove video review
This post contains a very detailed review of the SenseGlove force-feedback gloves, but if you don’t like walls of texts and prefer a more agile video review, then I got you covered! Have fun watching this review video 🙂
What is SenseGlove?
Before starting, let’s make a recap of the previous article: what is SenseGlove? SenseGlove is an exoskeleton for your hands that is able to provide you haptics sensations. Theoretically, the SenseGlove can be used outside VR, but practically speaking it is inside the virtual reality that it shines, because it is able to give more realism to your VR experiences by offering more realistic touch sensations. This realism is offered through three main features:
- Fingers tracking: Senseglove can detect the orientation of your hand and also the bending angle of your fingers. It can so be used as a hand tracking device;
- Vibrotactile feedback: SenseGlove has some motors that can vibrate so that you feel vibrations on your fingertips. This is good to give some tactile information, making you feel the texture of objects. So, if in a VR game, you put your hands in a plasma portal on a spaceship, SenseGlove could improve your immersion by giving you slight vibrations on the fingertips that are touching the portal, to simulate the effect of the plasma field on your hands;
- Force-feedback: thanks to the motors installed on the device, SenseGlove can simulate the passive forces applied by the virtual objects of the VR world you are in. Let me explain this better with an example: if you grab a bottle in real life, your fingers can’t trespass the bottle, because the material of the bottle exerts a force towards your fingers which prevents them to enter. If you grab a virtual bottle in VR, you usually can move your hand freely, and so your real fingers (and usually also the virtual ones) can enter the shape of the virtual bottle because there is no real physical object preventing this to happen. With a force-feedback device, the sensation of the virtual bottle is replicated in VR like in real life: you grab the virtual bottle, and the motors installed on the glove start applying resistance to your fingers so that they can’t move beyond the shape of the virtual bottle. This way, it is for you as the bottle is really there and you have an enhanced sensation of realism.
SenseGlove is currently producing its DK1 device, that can be used both with Vive systems (in this case, a Vive Tracker is attached to the gloves to provide the positional tracking) or Oculus systems (in this case, the Oculus Touch controllers are used). It has been made in plastic so that to be more affordable for companies that want to buy it.
It has not been thought for games, but more for enterprise uses like training.
I know that you love my unboxing videos, so here you are my full unboxing of the SenseGlove gloves!
I have to say that to be a devkit, the packaging is very good. There is an elegant suitcase with the SenseGlove logo on, and when you open it you find all the pieces put in a very ordered way. I loved also the fact that it is not just a box, but a suitcase with a handle so that you can carry all the SenseGlove system with you very easily. The suitcase is also full of foam that protects your precious gloves during your travels.
Inside the box you find:
- 1x SenseGlove right
- 1x SenseGlove left
- 1x SenseGlove linkbox
- 1x power cable
- 1x USB connector cable short (2m/ 6.5ft)
- 2x USB connector cable long (3m/ 10ft)
- 2x HTC tracker mounts including screws
- 1x manual
I hoped that the setup of SenseGlove gloves could have been a bit easier, but being a development kit of experimental hardware, it is not strange that it requires some time. Here you are a very practical video in which I explain to you how to set up and install this piece of hardware from the start to the end:
The full setup of the system requires the following steps:
- Connection of the SenseGloves to your PC. This is actually the easy part: there is a big central box that must be connected with the gloves through 2 long USB cables. The same box is connected to a power outlet to give power to the gloves and is also connected to your PC via another USB cable. This way your gloves are powered and can communicate with your PC;
- Setup of the HTC Vive system. The HTC Vive requires you to install two base stations in your room, connect various cables to your PC, etc… etc… We all know that this is quite a nuisance now that we are used to systems where you plug in one or two cables and you are ready to go. Notice: I have used the SenseGlove with the Vive headset, but actually it is also compatible with the Rift S for a sligthly easier setup!
- Setup of the Vive Trackers. You have to connect your Tracker adapters to your USB ports (so that you can use the Trackers and the Controllers), and then do the pairing of your trackers. It is important that you also have at least one Vive controller connected because SteamVR may show you some input configuration popup when you open your SenseGlove experiences, and if you don’t have a controller, you can’t operate it, and so you can’t go on using your applications. After the Trackers are properly configured, you have to mount them on the SenseGlove gloves with some screws;
- After all of this, the system is set up, but you still have to wear the gloves, and this is not an easy task if you are alone. For every glove, there are two velcro straps for the palm of your hand and then a velcro strap for each one of the fingertips, that secure the glove to your hand. If wearing the first glove is quite simple, the second one becomes tricky because your first hand has already this big plastic glove that prevents it from moving properly and so it can’t operate on the straps to fit your second hand properly. After some practice, you manage to do this all alone, but the straps remain a nuisance because they are very hard to open, and sometimes the ones of the palm exits from their guides and you have to put them into their proper holes again (an annoying procedure if the hand that must do this operation has already the glove fitted in);
- At the end of this, you are ready to go. You can open a Senseglove-compatible application and play with it. If the accuracy of the glove is really bad, you can run a calibration application to improve its performance.
The time I needed to go from my simple laptop being on the desk of my house, to a full system of Vive headset, Trackers and SenseGlove properly worn and ready to go was around 30 minutes the first time, that became 15 minutes in my next installations. My piece of advice is that if you have to use SenseGlove, you had better having a permanent installation with desktop PC, VR headset, trackers already configured. Also, if you are the only person wearing the gloves, you can put them again quite easily without having to re-open all the straps of the fingertips, but by just pushing them gently again on your fingers as if they were rings.
As you can see, the hardware setup is not plug and play. What puzzled me is that there is no software setup. I expected some sorts of runtime, configuration panel, hardware diagnostic tool, etc… instead, there is nothing. While this may seem something that makes the setup easier, it actually can be a problem sometimes: when I opened the demo app the first time and the gloves weren’t working, I had no way to check if the problem was in the app, or in the connection of the devices, because there was no diagnostic tool helping me. This should be fixed in future iterations of the device.
SenseGlove gloves are made in blue plastic. In the videos the plastic looked very cheap, but actually seeing it closely it is not that bad, it doesn’t look like a 3D printed device.
The glove is made by a fixed part that you wear on the back of your hand, onto which are attached the five moving fingers. Every finger is a blue rigid plastic stick (so it can’t bend as you real fingers), that has two degrees of freedom: it can rotate towards the palm, and it can rotate “horizontally” to spread apart from the other fingers. The thumb has one degree of freedom more, so it can operate better. Installed on the base block, there is a motor for every finger, that is responsible for applying the force feedback, and also the system to provide the vibrations for the tactile feedback.
Inside the glove there is a bit of fabric where you put the back of your hands to install the device, and then two big straps for your palm and a strap for every fingertip to secure every plastic stick to its related finger. The straps can be a bit a nuisance to install, as I told you before.
It is important to notice that every finger is not directly attached to the blue plastic stick, but it is attached to a black plastic extension of this stick, that can rotate pivoting around the top of the blue stick. This is fundamental to let you open and close your hand bending your real fingers comfortably: the sticks are rigid and they couldn’t let you bend your fingers freely if the fingers were glued to them, while with this system, you can open and close your hand as you wish because the black part of the glove can rotate to accommodate to the bending of your finger. A string between the blue and black part is installed to provide the force-feedback: when the motors must block you, they activate and pull the string so strong that you can’t rotate the black part anymore and so you can’t bend your fingers and your hand remains fixed with the pose of the virtual object you are holding.
The overall design doesn’t look cheap, but it really feels like a devkit.
Many people are asking me if the SenseGlove gloves are comfortable. The answer is that they are ok but not as comfortable as I would have liked them to be.
They are quite light, but not so light as that you can forget about them. And especially if you mount the trackers, the overall system is not balanced, so you always feel the change of weight applied to your hands while you are moving them. There is also the tether that doesn’t make your hands completely free to move, but in my tests, this has never been a big deal.
As I had already occasion to try with the Dexmo Gloves in China, the straps can be a big nuisance: if you close them loosely, the gloves move slightly during the usage and this is annoying; if you close them too tight, they become uncomfortable on the long run, leaving visible signs on your fingers. An alternate solution should be found (Dexta was experimenting with the use of rubber cups for the fingers, for instance) to guarantee the comfort of the users during long sessions.
I’m trying the gloves during the summer, and between the straps that close my fingertips and the glove that becomes warm during the usage, my hands are sweating. And then the straps also make the fingertips bigger, so when you open-close your hands, your fingers finish to touch each other pretty often.
All in all, it is not that bad wearing them, but what I want to highlight is that you always remind that there is something attached to your hands and in the long run, they are not very comfortable to be worn. If you have to perform long sessions with SenseGlove, I advise you to take regular breaks to make your hands rest a bit.
The fingers in the SenseGlove gloves are quite free to move, and even if the system with the strings exerts some resistance every time, this is not so big to be a real problem. When you grasp an object in VR, the gloves apply force-feedback to your fingers and block them.
The SenseGlove can apply a strong force-feedback to stop your fingers, to simulate a solid object in your hands, like a bottle, or it can just apply some resistance, to simulate a malleable material, like the one of an anti-stress ball. Both sensations are very cool when they work.
To create a realistic sensation of haptics, the whole system (hardware + software) must be good in emulating the exact sensation of the object you are holding virtually. And this very hardly happens, because there is usually some mismatch in the shape that your fingers create (e.g. you are holding a virtual cube, but your fingers close to form a circle), or in the actual strength applied (e.g. you are squeezing an anti-stress ball, but the force-feedback resistance is not the one of the rubber material that you see). We are too early for realistic haptic feedback, so the mechanism works very well like in 10-20% of cases. And when it happens, it feels like pure magic. There has been a moment in the haptic demo provided with the gloves, where I held a glass cylinder in my hands, and the grasp was quite good, then I closed my fingers more, and the cylinder broke virtually, and it released completely the resistance in that moment, and my brain clicked and went in full awe. These are the moments in which having the SenseGloves feel like pure magic.
In another 50-60% of cases, the haptic feedback is there, but it is a bit wrong: so for instance, you are grabbing a cup, but maybe your fingers are blocked in a straight position and not in a bent one. Or the resistance of a material is there but feels too strong or too weak.
In the remaining 30% of cases, the feedback is mostly wrong, and when it happens, you have a disconnection from the magic of virtual reality. The good news about this is that I feel that the error is mostly from the software side (bad detection of collisions of the virtual fingers) and so can be easily fixed in future iterations of the SDK without having to change the hardware.
If you have never tried force-feedback gloves, I can tell you that of course, the sensation of the resistance of the objects is not the same as in real-life (in real life you have a force that pushes your fingers, here you have strings pulling them), but it can improve realism a lot the same.
The vibrotactile feedback is nice: I mean, it can’t replicate exactly the texture of objects like the bubbles of the HaptX gloves do, but it can convey nice sensations of activations of objects (e.g. you can feel when a drilling machine is on). The finger tracking can be improved and it is worse than the one of Leap Motion, also because every finger has not all its DOF tracked.
A last word on the force feedback: you can really hear when the motors turn on, because you hear a strong “click” from all the motors that activate to start applying the force feedback.
Being a devkit, there is no application you can test. You can enter Unity and try some sample scenes that just let you grasp objects while you are not even in VR. Or you can try Space Station, a little test training experience that SenseGlove has developed to showcase its hardware. Space Station is nice, and lets you grasp stuff, break objects, etc… but it is also very short.
This is a DK, and you are supposed to develop the applications yourself.
As a developer, I gave a look to their Unity SDK, that you can find on GitHub here.
I love that SenseGlove SDK is opensource, and that it has many sample scenes from which you can learn how to do the basic stuff (grabbing objects, etc…). The hands are represented as big customizable prefabs and you can make the objects tactile by adding some ready-to-use scripts that define how an object is grabbable, breakable, squeezable, etc… The SDK seems pretty powerful and has many features. It has also a PDF with all the classes references, so that in case of need you have already a big documentation that can help you.
On the cons side, I think that the big problem of the SDK is the lack of a “quick start guide”. The only available doc is the classes reference, that is like 350 pages long, and so it is pretty frightening. There is nothing guiding you as soon as you open the Unity package, and so I had to randomly start investigating the samples. Furthermore, all the samples are made for a 2D screen, and to have a sample involving Vive Trackers I had to ask directly the company (that anyway was very kind in providing one, so +1 for them for this).
BTW, starting from the template project and inspiring myself with the samples, I have been able to create pretty fast a scene where I could grasp a sphere and a cube in VR and have force feedback. But to learn something more advanced I would need a bit of time to study the whole SDK.
Furthermore, remember all the feedback I gave you above about the force-feedback mechanic? The SDK should also be improved to give more realism to the grasping haptics.
Summarizing, the SDK is powerful, but needs improvements.
A final comment on how it is developing with Unity and the SenseGlove. I have to say that is a pretty unique experience… after you have the gloves on, making every modification becomes a bit tricky to say the least…
Price and availability
SenseGlove is already available on its official website for €3000 + VAT. If you want to make it wireless, you have to add another €500 + VAT for the wireless kit. Before someone makes the usual jokes about its “affordability”, remember that it is an enterprise device and not a consumer gaming one.
Comparison with Dexmo Gloves
Remember the Dexmo Gloves that I tried in Beijing? So, how do they compare with SenseGlove?
I think they compare pretty fairly: Dexmo Gloves were wireless out-of-the-box, had better ergonomics, and a more realistic force-feedback. I mean, the force-feedback was not perfect and sometimes I had the same sensations of wrong haptics, but it happened less frequently than with the SenseGlove. Furthermore, the Dexmo Gloves could also provide active force-feedback, and I could also have the glove actively move my fingers to simulate for instance a heart pumping in my hands. They were also compatible with Quest. Regarding the setup, it was complicated the same.
All in all, the Dexmo Gloves win on a side-by-side comparison. But I wasn’t expecting anything different, because the SenseGlove is far cheaper than the Dexmo (and even than the HaptX Gloves), and with “Far Cheaper” I mean at 3-5 times cheaper. It is also still a DK1 by a young startup, while Dexta has put years of R&D to create the Dexmo.
That’s why I say the comparison is fair: every one of these devices gives you what you pay for, and while Dexmo can be useful for medium-big companies, SenseGlove could serve the small-medium sized ones, or even passionate prosumers.
SenseGlove review: Final Verdict
I have been very critical in this review (I always am), but in the end, I had fun playing around with the SenseGlove. It is not a perfect device, and has a lot to improve in the ergonomics, and also in its software runtime to provide more realistic haptic feedback. But at the same time, it was never built to be ready for the market: it is marked as a first development kit, and so it is clear that the Dutch company is still learning how to create this kind of products.
I think it is a valid tool to start experimenting with haptic feedback, especially if SenseGlove will continue updating its fingers tracking and grasping detection algorithms. Due to its relatively low price, small companies and professionals can afford to enter the world of haptics to create more realistic VR experiences. I think that it can be very interesting especially for training and rehabilitation experiences.
So, if you are into these fields, you can consider buying a pair of SenseGlove gloves, keeping in mind that you are working with cutting-edge technology and so there will be glitches here and there.
A final word on the company, that has been always very kind to me and very reactive for every problem I had during the review: this is a big plus if you have to use the gloves in enterprise sectors and you need fast assistance in case of problems that may mean a waste of time and money!
That’s it for my review! If you have doubts or questions about the SenseGlove, feel free to ask them in the comments or on my social media channels! And if you want to give me a smile, subscribe to my newsletter or donate on Patreon!
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