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VR Interfaces: Power Glove


Overview of Power Glove
Originally created in 1989, by Nintendo, the Power Glove is at once a symbol of mainstream VR, and a source of derision and ridicule. It is a humiliating failure, that lingers in the minds of many. Even 20 years later, many use the power glove and its ilk to mock the field of VR.

It was intended as a true dataglove, the first of its kind. An interface designed to recreate the human hand and all the finger movements, in real-time in a VR environment. In addition it had a full gamepad and a numerical keyboard on the wrist of the device, intended for operations by the other hand. This is where the problems started. Yes, in theory it worked well, however that theory did not take into account that the hand wearing the power glove was going to be jerking around to control the VR. This meant that the gamepad on its wrist was also going to be jerking around, making the controls all but impossible to use.

Another problem was the insensitivity of the finger sensors. In the original prototype dataglove on which the power glove was based, finger flexing and movement was determined by a pair of ultrasonic transmitters at either side of the hand, whilst optical flex sensors were laced down each finger, detecting the amount of bending at the joint. This worked well, but was expensive to produce. So, Nintendo replaced every sensor on the glove with a cheaper to produce carbon flex sensor. It was cheaper, and far less accurate, making the glove somewhat unresponsive. You had to caricature movements to get the desired result.

Because the ultrasonic transmitters were also removed, precise positioning of the glove was impossible. With them in place, a dataglove can detect yaw, pitch and roll. Without them, roll can only be measured by the twisting of the hand itself and how it compresses cheap carbon flex sensors on the back of the hand. This again, lead to the unresponsiveness of the Power Glove.

Thankfully the first Data Glove, which was produced at the same time, went with optical flex sensors instead. So, whilst the Power Glove died loudly, datagloves continued to thrive as more expensive simulation interfaces in the background.

The only upside of the Power Glove really is that it formed the base technology for what would later become the Wii remote control. That is after technology had advanced significantly, and there were superior methods to carbon flex sensors, available cheaply.

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