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07 November 2023

Fluid Reality Unlocks the Power of Haptic Gloves in Virtual Reality: A Conversation with CEO Joe Mullenbach

By Bobby Carlton

Fluid Reality gloves use 20 haptic pixels per square centimeter.

Virtual Reality (VR) has come a long way, but there has always been a missing piece of the puzzle – the ability to truly feel the virtual environment. Haptic gloves are emerging as a game-changing solution to bridge this sensory gap. Imagine being able to touch and feel objects in the virtual world just as you would in reality. It’s a promising leap toward an even more immersive VR experience.

At the forefront of developing cutting-edge technology to enhance haptic feedback in VR is a team made up of Carnegie Mellon University graduates who created the Fluid Reality gloves. Their revolutionary approach employs electroosmotic fluid arrays, offering not only an enhanced sense of touch but also the potential to lower costs. We had the opportunity to sit down with Joe Mullenbach, co-founder and CEO of Fluid Reality, to discuss the significance of haptic gloves and the future of immersive technology.

Mullenbach talked about his company saying “We started Fluid Reality to break through a long-standing technology barrier, the ability to create high resolution, high-quality haptic feedback,” explaining, haptic feedback is the missing link in the world of virtual reality. While the visual aspect of VR has made tremendous strides over the years, haptic feedback has not progressed at the same pace.

Mullenbach emphasized the significance of haptic feedback, saying, “For immersion, haptics is the difference between being there, and being a ghost. For enterprise, haptics is the difference between having natural control and having a confusing barrier standing between your hands and the job you’re doing. For socializing, touch is the literal definition of being close to someone. I don’t think the promise of immersive technology is ever realized without the sense of touch.”

Fluid Reality’s innovation in haptic technology isn’t limited to gloves. Mullenbach explained, “Fluid Reality is building a platform technology. We can make haptic actuators small and large, designed for different applications and locations, wearable and on props and controllers.” This suggests that their technology could extend beyond gloves to encompass full-body suits, masks for the face and head, and various other applications.

How Fluid Reality’s technology works is really interesting. What they’ve done is introduce a novel method for crafting high-resolution shape-changing fingerpad arrays, boasting an impressive 20 haptic pixels per square centimeter. A departure from conventional pneumatic approaches, Fluid Reality actuators exhibit remarkable characteristics: they are ultra-slim, measuring a mere 5mm in thickness, exceptionally energy-efficient, requiring approximately 10mW per pixel, and entirely self-contained, eliminating the need for external tubing or wires.

Fluid Reality

Their work showcases the seamless integration of multiple actuator arrays into a five-finger haptic glove, comprising a total of 160 actuators. This innovative glove is not only untethered but also impressively lightweight, tipping the scales at a mere 207 grams, inclusive of all drive electronics and a battery. Furthermore, it holds the potential to achieve consumer-friendly pricing at scale.

According to a recently published paper by Fluid Reality, their findings are backed by a comprehensive evaluation of technical performance and a series of eight user studies, effectively quantifying the diverse capabilities of our system. These capabilities encompass the recognition of object properties, including complex contact geometry, texture, and compliance. Moreover, their system showcases the ability to deliver expressive spatiotemporal effects, highlighting its versatility and potential for a wide range of applications.

When asked about the long-term goals of Fluid Reality, Mullenbach shared a compelling vision: “Long-term we see Fluid Reality haptic actuators as a core building block for XR systems, and we want to enable people building enterprise and consumer products, location-based entertainment, immersive experiences, and more.”


In the immediate future, Fluid Reality aims to collaborate with early design partners, early adopters, and original equipment manufacturers (OEM) to further advance their technology. They are also focused on maturing their technology towards production. Mullenbach emphasized their commitment to continued innovation and collaboration in the immersive tech space.

Haptic gloves are opening new doors in the realm of VR, and Fluid Reality is at the forefront of this transformative technology. As they work toward their long-term goal of revolutionizing XR systems, it’s clear that the world of virtual reality is on the cusp of a touch-sensitive revolution, one that will redefine how we interact with digital worlds and each other.

Read their recently published paper here.