One thing that most Big Tech companies working on smart glasses have yet to figure out is how to effectively interact with an augmented reality environment. Apple is heavily rumored to be working on his own pair of AR glasses and apparently considered vibrant haptic socks to address this issue.
A new patent seen by AppleInsider primarily describes a haptic output device that “may include foot-shaped structures with cavities configured to receive users’ feet.” The support structure that can be used for the foot would also feature a “series of haptic output components” that function to “apply feedback” to the bottom and top of a person’s foot, possibly to create a sense of movement even if the foot is not moving. “These forces can give the user the sensation of resting or sliding on a tile surface or other surface with surface irregularities,” says the patent.
Technically speaking, the patent says that the “foot-wearable support structure” does not have to be a sock. It could also be a shoe. Or just something you set your foot on. The patent is also pretty vague as to what kind of device these haptic socks (or shoes) would give you feedback. Mention joysticks, buttons, scroll wheels, touchpads., keyboards, keyboards, microphones, speakers, tone generators, vibrators, cameras, and even cooling systems. It also scans a host of sensors, including the ones you’d expect such as force and touch sensors, as well as sensors to detect temperature, air pressure, and humidity. Apple, apparently, doesn’t want sweaty feet to take away from the experience of whatever it is you were thinking of wearing these socks.
Of all the things Apple is supposedly working on, its niche VR headsets and AR smart glasses are the most likely candidates. From a gaming perspective, something like this would definitely help an Apple headset feel more immersive. It’s a cake in the sky he thought but theoretically you could use them to simulate walking without requiring the user to actually move.
As ridiculous as the vibrant socks seem, he’s not totally out of left field either. Facebook Reality Labs, the division of the social media giant working on its AR projects, recently published a blog detailing a similar vision of “Soft Handheld Devices” to help users interact in virtual environments. Of course, Facebook was talking about gloves and wristbands, which are a bit more intuitive than, well, socks. Still, this is an extension of that same line of thinking.
You shouldn’t bet that Apple will release any kind of virtual reality or augmented reality device with these babies. Big Tech files patents all the time just to put their stamp on an idea before a competitor, and right now it seems like all the major players are hooking up with some kind of consumer smart glasses. But it somehow shows us where Apple’s head is, notoriously reserved, regarding one of AR’s biggest problems. However, personally speaking, I have no intention of showing shit to Apple or any other tech company.